Dandelions: Acceptable for Horses?By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · March 31, 2017
Dandelions crop up just about everywhere – on lawns, in pastures, even in gardens. Many consider them an annoying weed, while others delight in consuming them as part of a healthy salad. Some horses even seek out dandelions to eat. What if your pasture is riddled with dandelions? Is it OK for your horse to consume them?
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are not known to be toxic to horses. However, false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata or Hypochoeris radicata) are thought to cause stringhalt in horses if too many are consumed. Stringhalt is a spasmodic contraction of the lateral flexor tendons in the hind legs, which presents as a sudden flexion of one or both hind legs. False dandelion causes the breakdown of the myelin sheath that covers nerves, causing damage and muscle atrophy. Horses that are less severely affected may show signs of incoordination or dragging of the hind hooves. Horses chronically consuming false dandelions may also experience muscle atrophy.
The best treatment for horses with false dandelion poisoning is to remove the animals from areas where the noxious plants grow. Over the course of a few weeks or months, the horse should recover well. Of course, a veterinarian should oversee recovery and care.
False dandelions, also known as cat’s ear or flatweed, are perennial plants often found in lawns. It is important to be able to distinguish between dandelions and false dandelions. Dandelions have jagged leaves, whereas the leaves of false dandelions are lobe-like and hairy. In addition, false dandelions have multiple branching flower stems that can grow 18-24 inches in height, and each with a single, yellow flower.
If you have concerns about identifying toxic plants in your pastures, it’s best to contact your state’s cooperative extension office. Extension agents are trained experts who are available to help provide guidance and information, often at no cost. Anytime a plant is suspected of being toxic, even if you aren’t sure, it is best to prevent horses from grazing that plant.