Flood-Affected Producers Find New Foe

QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA - With much of Queensland recovering from floods, producers in flood-affected areas of the state are urged to be on the lookout for a new foe in the coming weeks - poisonous plants.
calendar icon 31 January 2011
clock icon 3 minute read

Biosecurity Queensland Principal Veterinary Officer Rick Whittle said toxic plant seeds could become displaced during flooding and spread easily, prompting new growth in areas previously not infested.

"As plant life starts to regenerate and shoot up in new areas, producers should keep a watchful eye on livestock for any signs of illness and look out for poisonous plants," Dr Whittle said.

"Producers need to keep an eye out for plants they know are toxic as well as unusual plants they don't recognise.

"These plants may appear to be harmless to hungry or naive livestock, especially if they are new to a locality, but once ingested, they can cause serious problems."

Dr Whittle said crotalarias were often the culprit of livestock poisoning, especially in cattle and horses. He said sheep were much more resistant to intoxication.

"Not all species of crotalaria are poisonous, but those that are usually cause liver damage in livestock and can be fatal in extreme cases," he said.

"Common signs of crotalaria poisoning in cattle include poor growth or wasting, jaundice, weakness and collapse, aimless walking, staggering and apparent blindness.

"Additional symptoms occasionally occur, including skin irritation and reddening (often progressing to some skin death), drooling and diarrhoea.

"Horses affected by crotalaria poisoning show similar signs to cattle, but can also experience paralysis of the tongue and larynx and breathing difficulties."

Two species of crotalaria are known to cause ulcers in the oesophagus of horses which results in an inability to swallow food and water.

Dr Whittle said the affects of crotalaria poisoning are cumulative, so it's important to act early.

"There are no specific treatments for crotalaria poisoning, but if it is confirmed early, moving livestock to a location where the plants aren't present, and removing the plants, can stop the problem escalating.

"In most cases damage is generally permanent but some animals can recover with supportive therapy that includes good feed and nutritional supplements."

Dr Whittle said during overcast conditions or if plants are stressed or wilted, common plants can become toxic.

"Under these conditions urochloa grass, button grasses, sorghum species and the common native couch grasses can accumulate nitrites or prussic acid that are toxic to livestock," Dr Whittle said.

"These grasses and sorghum species can be fatal to livestock, but urgent treatment can save affected animals."

Signs of nitrite poisoning from ingesting urochloa and button grasses include rapid, gasping breathing, bluish gums, convulsions and muddy brown looking mouth and eyes. Affected livestock may also walk through fences or into objects.

Signs of poisoning from prussic acid, which can build up in native couch grass and sorghums, include rapid deep breathing, salivation, a rapid weak pulse, muscle twitching or trembling, spasms, staggering and sometimes a bluish discolouration of the gums.

Dr Whittle said if producers noticed any of the above signs in their livestock, it was important to seek advice urgently.

"Some poisoning can be fatal within as little as an hour, so in many cases urgent action may be the key to saving animals."

Producers should contact their local veterinarian for advice and treatment if plant poisoning is suspected.

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