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Plant Poisoning in Cattle

Ragwort

Careful management of pastures means that ingestion of ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) should be rare in the UK but does occur. Poisoning occurs more commonly following the ingestion of the plant in hay or silage.

extensiveragwort

Extensive ragwort contamination of neglected grassland.

Clinical presentation

There  is  chronic  weight  loss,  diarrhoea,  jaundice, and accumulation of fluid under the jaw and brisket caused by liver disease.   Affected cattle are often dull and depressed.

chronic

There is chronic weight loss and diarrhoea.
dull
Affected cattle are often dull and depressed and may  show  persistent  straining  leading  to prolapse of the rectum.

 

Differential diagnoses

Your veterinary surgeon will also consider:

  • Liver fluke
  • Lead poisoning

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is based upon clinical evidence of liver disease with exposure to ragwort.   Elevated liver enzymes reflect the hepatic insult.   Diagnosis is confirmed following liver biopsy or at postmortem examination.

Treatment

There is no effective treatment once clinical signs appear. Remove contaminated feed and destroy. Horses are more susceptible to ragwort than cattle. Sheep are much less susceptible than cattle.

Prevention/control measures

Control ragwort on pasture by use of selective herbicides.

More detailed information on herbicide treatments is available at:

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/12/03104249/0

http://www.sac.ac.uk/mainrep/pdfs/tn570ragwortpois oning.pdf

 

Yew

Yew (Taxus spp) species are common ornamental trees  especially  in  churchyards. Accidental exposure and ingestion lead to rapid death.

Differential diagnoses

Common causes of sudden death at pasture your veterinary surgeon will also consider:

  • Anthrax
  • Blackleg
  • Lightning strike

Diagnosis

History of exposure to yew with remains of leaves/twigs in the rumen.

Treatment

There is no treatment. Prevent access by maintaining perimeter fences.

 

Bracken

Ingestion of bracken over several weeks when pasture is sparse can lead to toxicity.

youngbracken

The young bracken fronds are much more palatable to livestock than older plants (see below).

brackenpoisoning

Bracken poisoning is much less common during the autumn when bracken is woody and much less palatable.

Acute disease and death can result from bone marrow suppression causing loss of blood cells and clotting factors.   Ingestion of bracken over many months (once used as bedding material) can lead to bladder tumours, and much less commonly tumours in the oesophagus and rumen.

Clinical presentation

Disease caused by lack of blood cells and clotting factors may present as sudden death, but anorexia, marked pyrexia due to secondary bacterial infection,

haemorrhages and blood from the nasal passages and vagina are more common signs.  The animal shows weakness progressing to recumbency and death within several days.

Bladder tumours result in blood in the urine in older cattle with possible straining and pain during urination. Chronic weight loss is often present.

chronicweightloss

Chronic  weight  loss  is  often  present  in  cows with bladder tumours.

Differential diagnoses

Sudden deaths must be checked for anthrax as appropriate.

Your veterinary surgeon will also consider:

  • Bladder tumours should be differentiated from pyelonephritis(kidney    infection). Redwater (babesiosis) is a common disease in certain geographic areas.

Treatment

In acute cases Treatment with DL-batyl alcohol and broad spectrum antibiotics is generally unsuccessful.

Prevention/control measures

Many hill farms have substantial areas of bracken where fencing, burning, herbicide treatments would prove  uneconomic  however  adequate  feeding should ensure cattle need not graze bracken especially the green fronds during early summer.

 

Oak (acorn) poisoning

Acorns from Quercus spp. can present a serious problem on pastures with oaks after autumn storms. Tannins in acorns cause serious, often fatal, kidney damage.

Clinical presentation

Sudden deaths may occur but anorexia, depression and bloat due to ruminal stasis are more common signs.   Initially there is constipation and associated straining  progressing  rapidly  to  foetid  tarry diarrhoea.  Death follows within 4-7 days despite supportive treatment.

bloat

Cattle show depression and bloat due to ruminal stasis

constipation

Initially there is constipation and associated straining progressing rapidly to foetid tarry diarrhoea.

diarrhoea

Diarrhoea in the terminal stages of acorn poisoning.

 

Differential diagnoses

Your veterinary surgeon will also consider:

  • Diarrhoea  can  result  from  severe  type  I ostertagiasis.
  • Mucosal disease

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is based upon clinical signs and exposure to acorns which are found in the rumen at necropsy.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment.  Supportive treatment includes large volumes of intravenous fluids which are prohibitively expensive.

Prevention/control measures

Remove cattle from pasture with oaks especially after autumn storms or heavy acorn falls.

Water dropwort poisoning

Dry and hot weather means that in many areas there is poor grass growth and cattle may encounter potentially toxic plants while grazing marginal areas. One of the most important poisonous plants is water dropwort which is very common in the western and southern regions of Great Britain, and common throughout Northern Ireland. Water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) is also known as water hemlock and hemlock water dropwort.

Cattle are particularly at risk after ditches have been cleared  out  exposing  the  most  poisonous  roots (often referred to as "dead man's fingers").

waterdropwort

Water Dropwort
(Inset: "dead man's fingers", leaves close-up)

The first signs after water dropwort ingestion are salivation and dilated pupils followed rapidly by difficulty breathing, collapse and convulsions. The convulsions are spasmodic, that is the whole body shakes violently, then relaxes and then, after a short period, starts convulsing again.   The majority of affected cattle die; in the small percentage that survive, diarrhoea is a common clinical sign in the recovery phase.

Diagnosis is based upon evidence of plants having been grazed or roots exposed by ditching and confirmed by postmortem examination finding plant remains in the rumen.

There is no specific treatment. If poisoning is suspected remove all cows from areas where the plant grows.

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