Beware: Acorns Can Cause Colic and Founder
By Martha Inks, Fort White, FL

This year there is a bumper crop of acorns falling from the oak trees, at least in north and north central Florida.

In many years, this is the first time I have had a problem with a horse who eats them off the ground, and some horses are more susceptible than others to the chemicals in the oak seeds.

When ingested, acorns can cause colic (even impaction) from sheer mass, plus their chemical compounds can cause founder (laminitis). (Even more deadly than acorns is black walnut poisoning, so toxic a horse can founder from just standing on bedding with 10%-15% black walnut shavings made from the wood in it; luckily that tree does not grow in Florida, but is present in north Georgia and beyond.)

Another acorn danger is impaction, the most serious form of colic. My mare is turned out in grassy paddocks partially shaded by oak trees three to four hours a day.

One day recently I was trail riding with a friend and my horse was huffing and puffing, but the other horse was not. My horse never did that, because the mare is in top condition. Five days later, I saw her laying down with her head hanging to the ground. She rolled and got up, but did not shake, a sure sign that something is wrong with a horse. She was in much pain and discomfort. I immediately took her temperature. I called the vet and reported the temp was 102.5, then started walking her, having her circle me, and walking up and down a small hill. The shifting of her intestines from the hill-walking obviously dislodged a gas bubble that was causing her discomfort and pain. She started 'licking and chewing' mouth signs and I knew she was feeling better.

When the vet arrived, my horse's resting vital signs were still elevated: Temp. 102.5, Respiration 40, Pulse 48. (Normal horse vital signs are reported below.) The vet said it wasn't colic, and possibly not a bad case of acorn poisoning because that usually shows up as severe colic, impaction or founder. The vet took a blood sample, and the results showed that everything was normal.

I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if the mare had been out full-time on the shady pasture instead part-time.

The only thing that was different that time was the acorns, and apparently some horses are more sensitive to acorns than others. I took away her access to acorns immediately. I started taking her vital signs three times a day and they gradually started to drop. After 72 hours, she was back to normal in every way. (It takes 72 hours for a horse to clear out its digestive system.) As I said, we never had our other horses affected by acorns, only this one.

Things to Look for Before Your Horse Founders or Colics from Acorn Poisoning:

1. Excessive, very smelly gas.
2. Huffing and puffing while riding, if the horse does not normally do that.
3. Elevated vital signs.
Respiration 8 - 16 per minute.
Normal pulse 36 - 57 beats per minute.
Normal temperature 100.5
4. Signs of discomfort, rolling and hanging head to the ground, looking back at flank, getting up and down a lot, sweating, general agitation.

My horse is fed peanut hay four times a day, plus her turn-outs on grass, but she will not be allowed access to acorns in the future.
When the acorns have all fallen, we will rake them up from the paddocks. (Don't cut down your oak trees! Besides being beautiful, they're needed for shade.)

Just thought this might be helpful to other horse owners. ________________________________________________________________________
By Martha Inks, Fort White, FL - Phone (386) 454-7281 - E-mail:


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