Horse owners have been warned of the dangers of the seeds and young shoots of the sycamore tree, which can be toxic for horses. The warning comes from the Flemish horse association PaardenPunt. “Keep your horse away from sycamore seedlings, and remove trees growing in the vicinity of the field,” the association advises. Horses can become sick by eating the seeds, which fall in autumn and have a distinctive helicopter shape, and the shoots, which are beginning to appear now. Three out of four horses affected die sooner or later. Seven cases of horses being poisoned by sycamore were reported in the first week of April alone, most with a fatal outcome.
Solutions other than vigilance are not readily available, PaardenPunt says.
“The sycamore is very widespread in Flanders, so there’s always a tree in the neighbourhood,” said Wim De Snijder of the horse refuge The Old Horse’s Lodge in Laarne near Ghent. The refuge has gone to great trouble to remove all sycamores in the immediate area, but De Snijder told VRT News it was worth it. “But if your neighbour has a sycamore tree, you have to ask him or her to remove it. And that’s not always easy.”
Vet Cecile De Cuppere from Ternat in East Flanders had to deal with a case of double poisoning last week, involving two heavily pregnant mares who were together in a field. “One was taken to the veterinary faculty in Ghent, and the other stayed here. In the end, neither of them made it,” she told the Gazet Van Antwerpen.
The paper also spoke to veterinary professor Gunther Van Loon of Ghent University, who explained that sycamores – a variety of maple tree — have always been a cause of problems for horses. “But in the past we couldn’t identify [the problem],” he said. “It’s only in the last few years that we’ve realised the common sycamore – not the related Norway maple – is toxic for horses. I would advise horse owners to check their land carefully, and certainly to make sure it is free of the common sycamore. The seeds remain toxic even if they showed up dried in the hay.”