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Plant Poisoning In Sheep

18 January 2021

SRUC vet labs find January to be the most common month for diagnosing death in sheep due to plant poisoning.  With the recent snow falling and the lack of grass sheep are more likely to seek shelter and forage on alternative sources.  Meaning flock keepers should be extra vigilant just now and limit sheep straying by offering forage in the field and maintaining fences.  This includes sheep away at wintering.

The most common plants to cause poisoning in sheep are Rhododendron and Pieris which both contain a toxic agent, grayanatoxin.  Many home owners purchase the shrubs for their attractive looks, and do not realise how toxic they are.  Unfortunately the entire plant (leaves, stems and flowers) are toxic to animals, so care must be taken to ensure garden trimmings don’t get dumped in fields close to housing, if this is the case they should be removed urgently.

In the case of sheep, they will occasionally show signs of abdominal pain, bruxism and regurgitation but more often than not are found dead suddenly.  A post mortem can diagnose plant poisoning quite simply by finding leaves of the plant in the rumen.

Kirsten Williams, kirsten.williams@sac.co.uk

Close up of a ewe on snow

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