Equestrian Needs Ltd


Symptoms of Ragwort Poisoning

Different horses react differently to the toxins contained in ragwort. The symptoms of poisoning may not always be apparent immediately after ragwort has been eaten. It may take as long as 4 weeks to 6 months for equine liver disease to develop.

Sadly, the clinical signs may only become apparent once liver failure has already occurred and it may be too late for treatment, however some horses do survive. In some cases the horse may develop a craving for fresh plant accelerating an unpleasant death.

Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain (colic)
  • Weight loss and dull coat
  • Constipation, diahorrea
  • Photosensitisation
  • Jaundice (not common)
  • Apparent blindness
  • Collapse, coma

It may be possible to diagnose liver damage by analyzing blood samples or performing a liver biopsy.

The University of Liverpool Veterinary School is developing a blood test to detect whether a horse is ingesting any ragwort. The test can therefore be regarded as an early indicator of ragwort poisoning long before any clinical signs develop. Cick here for further information

If you suspect your horse has been poisoned by ragwort, contact your veterinary surgeon as soon as possible who will discuss the best course of action.

What you can do

  • Horse paddocks should be carefully managed to prevent the development of bare patches as these present ideal conditions for the establishment of ragwort. Horses are very selective eaters and they will avoid areas where they dung or urinate, leaving long course grass and if left out during the winter, poaching can encourage bare patches.
  • The area of grazing land should always be appropriate for the number of livestock it is to support. Paddocks should be regularly “poo picked” and stale fodder such as hay should be removed.
  • It is believed that some equines get to like the bitter taste of ragwort and may choose to eat it even when there is good grazing available.
  • Hay is a common source of ragwort poisoning. Unfortunately when ragwort is dried it loses its bitter taste and horses are no longer able to detect it. So any hay, haylage or even chaff which contains the weed will be readily eaten. It is really important to check bales of hay for ragwort as the toxins are not destroyed when the plant dies - but it may not always be easy to recognize ragwort when it is dried and fragmented.
  • Why you buy hay it may be possible to check the source, ask what method of weed control was used and maybe even visit the hayfield from which the hay was cut.

If you have concerns about Ragwort on public land you can contact

Network Rail - 08457 11 41 41 - (Railway land and embankments)

Highways Agency Information Line 0300 123 5000 (calls charged at local rate)

Last Updated: August 2012