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Manitoba Maple Poisoning
 By Winniefield Park   •   20th Jan 2018   •   2,616 views   •   0 comments
The Manitoba maple is softwood tree that is very common in many parts of North America. I have several on my property and they grow like weeds along the paddock fences and the barn. The Manitoba maple leaves, sometimes called box elder or ash maple are quite different from other maples. Unlike the maple leaf depicted on the Canadian flag, the Manitoba maple has compound leaves that look like three to nine distinct leaves coming from a single stem. the individual lobes look like the leaves of an elder or ash tree.

Manitoba Maple
Manitoba Maples leaf with 5 leaflets, can have 3 to 9. Photo ref - University of Guelph

They donít grow terribly high and they are not a long-lived tree. They are really quite unremarkable so that you might not notice how many there are if they are growing amongst other greenery.

These trees, because they are fast growing, are good for windbreaks and provide shade. But this very common tree has caused heartbreaking problems for a Calgary, Alberta family. In the first part of December, they noticed one of their horses were starting to become weak. A vet suggested it was colic. Then one of the horses staggered in its field, laid down and thrashed, banging its head repeatedly as it tried to regain its feet. Within a short time four horses were showing signs of distress. Their symptoms included dark colored urine, inability urinate, weakness, difficulty walking and standing amongst others. Their local vet was unable to pinpoint the cause of the illness.

The family called on an expert from the University of Calgary. After looking at all of the symptoms, and ruling out other possibilities, the veterinarian began to consider the possibility of poisoning. Toxins can come from any number of sources, and in this case, Manitoba maple seeds were thought to be the blame. But, how could this be, given that the horses were in Alberta in the first month of meteorological winter? In the winter months, an easterly wind blows down the side of the Rocky Mountains. This wind is warm and very strong and can melt snow at a rate of a foot or 30 cm in 24 hours. The air temperature can rise very quickly, and may stay well above typical winter values for long enough to bring plants and seedlings out of dormancy. And, the winds can knock down seeds and tree branches. And among those trees dropping seeds in the balmy chinook winds were Manitoba maples, one of the few trees able to withstand the rapidly changing climate.

Itís quite likely that if your horse were to nibble a few seeds, it would come to no harm. But, after a few cold autumn months with nothing to eat but dry hay, a horse might be tempted to eat anything fresh thing it can find, including seed pods. And, Manitoba maple seeds are known to cause something called seasonal pasture myopathy, also known as atypical myopathy in Europe. Sadly, SPM is fatal in most cases. There is only about a 25 percent chance of a horse surviving poisoning from Manitoba maple seedlings, even with prompt veterinary care. The cause of the disease has only recently been pinpointed. The poisonings most often happen in the autumn. Not all horses will be affected and the poisonings can easily be misdiagnosed since the symptoms look similar to other diseases.

Preventing this poisoning is far easier than treating it. Check your pastures for Manitoba maples and their close relatives. You should be aware of other varieties like oak and red maple that are potentially toxic. Trim away branches that overhang pastures. Clear out the fallen seeds, also called keys that whirl down from the trees when it is windy or after a hard rain. Most horses wonít eat the seeds if they have other good food available, so make sure horses arenít left to forage in sparse pasture. Keep hay in front of them as much as possible. Or, keep horses out of areas where these trees grow during the autumn months.

Sadly, the Calgary area family lost four of their five horses. The remaining horse is still recovering but may have suffered lasting damage. They also lost their three potbellied pigs and chickens as the toxin affects other animals. A GoFundme page has been started to help offset their veterinary bills.
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