Acorn poisoning most commonly occurs in sheep but can also affect horses, cattle, and goats. It is caused by eating an excessive amount of acorns, oak leaves or branches from an oak tree. Although this is toxic to these particular livestock animals, it isn’t necessarily toxic to other animals that require this type of nourishment in their daily diets.
The toxin that is produced by oak tree acorns is called “tannin” or “tannic acid” that causes the animal to absorb protein inappropriately. Tannic acid contracts the tissues or canals of the body, acting as an astringent. All oak trees contain this toxin, but it is measured at a more dangerous level in the White Oak tree. All oak trees produce a bittersweet taste to the acorns, branches and leaves of the tree. This makes it an appealing item to eat for certain animals.
The poisoning that is caused by the acorns can do severe damage to the gastrointestinal system, liver and to the kidneys. The symptoms that may be seen include, but are not limited to:
- Anorexia (not eating)
- Pain in the abdomen (colic)
- Blood in the urine
- Edema or fluid accumulation in the legs
You may also see acorn pieces in the animal’s feces. Diagnosis is sometimes problematic, unless your animal has a history of ingesting acorns.
Treating this type of toxin is a difficult task, as there isn’t a specific treatment plan that can be followed nor is there an antidote to the poisoning. Prevention and supportive care are the best options when it comes to treatment. Supportive care consists of getting as much of the toxin out of the animals’ system as possible with IV fluids. Activated charcoal can also be used immediately after ingestion to help eliminate as much of the toxin as possible.
Preventing the possibility of your animal being infected with this toxin involves getting rid of the source of the acorns, leaves or bark. This may involve moving your animals’ pasture location, cleaning up the various trees that are located around your land (especially after a storm) and/or fencing off these potential hazard zones so they are out of your animals’ reach. For further questions and concerns please do not hesitate to call the River Road Veterinary Clinic for some answers. We are always happy to help!