Drowning in a Sea of Buttercup

Buttercup season is upon us. That beautiful, little yellow flower you often see in pastures isn’t as innocent as it looks. While many horse owners have heard that Ranculus spp.  (buttercup) is toxic to horses, most will follow up warnings with the adage that horses won’t eat it when they are grazing anyways so they don’t need to worry about it. This is wrong. Once horses have eaten down the desirable grasses in the pasture, they will begin to graze on other available forage, including buttercup. Given that most fields I see buttercup growing in are mostly run down from lack of management, it wouldn’t be a far reach to say that horses in these fields are much more likely to consume buttercup. Healthy, well-managed pastures have little to no buttercup so these folks are less likely to have an issue.

How bad is it? The toxin in buttercup is called ranunculin. This glycoside forms into protoanemonin when the plant is chewed by the animal causing blistering. The oil lines the mouth and digestive tract causing mild to severe symptoms. It is important to know the symptoms of exposure to this toxin which include:

  • blisters on the horses lips and in the mouth
  • salivation
  • swelling of the face
  • colic
  • diarrhea that may have blood in it
  • decreased appetite
  • depressed state
  • slower pulse
  • skin twitching
  • paralysis
  • convulsions
  • death

Buttercup loves to grow in wet, over-grazed pastures. It is key to create an environment that discourages its growth. A pasture management plan put together by a professional can help you easily do this. If you find your horses in a sea of buttercup, give us a call and we would be happy to help you. Our buttercup mitigation plans are available for download purchase. If you are interested, send us a message.