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Acorn poisoning

In York we are having the usual floods and the village where I live is right by the river. The Ďingsí or flood plain where we usually walk the dogs has become a lake, seven foot deep on which my mad husband is windsurfing as we speak.

The rain has finally come after months of incredibly dry weather. These drought conditions late in the year have sparked a few deaths in the cattle belonging to clients of the practice. Why? Because of little, apparently harmless acorns.

We are all aware that some plants can be poisonous; maybe the most notorious in farm animals is the Yew. This is so toxic that in some cases the animals have been found dead with the leaves still in their mouth. However, acorns are often overlooked because animals donít find them particularly palatable so donít often eat them. Most cases of acorn (well, oak) poisoning are seen in the spring when the animals eat the new shoots and leaves that are tastier than the more mature parts of the plant. The weather conditions make a massive difference to this. While we humans have been revelling in the glorious mild weather the grazing has been becoming more and more sparse. As autumn comes on the acorns start to fall and the trouble begins. As cattle, sheep and the like are becoming more and more short of decent grazing they start to inadvertently pick up acorns in with their meagre grass. After periods of high wind it can be worse because you suddenly get high numbers of acorns on the floor.

It usually takes a few weeks of eating them to get clinical signs and some animals can die within 24 hours of these starting but most cases become chronically ill over a period of weeks and then succumb. The exact nature of the toxic ingredient is not entirely known but it is suspected to be a tannin. Whatever it is the illness is a nasty one with kidney failure, depression and haemorrhage in the intestines. The affected animals can be nursed but unfortunately many do not recover. I know itís a depressing story but unfortunately it is all part and parcel of the job. I suppose it is another reminder that one manís meat is another manís poison or, in this case, one humanís lovely summer is another animalís poison.

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