Keeping your horse’s liver healthy

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The liver is the powerhouse of your horse’s body and the largest organ (around 1% of your horse’s bodyweight).

It works in partnership with every other organ, meaning that liver diseases can have repercussions throughout the body.

This vital organ filters blood, removing toxins and storing nutrients to distribute around the body.

It also digests fat and stores energy and protein to release into the blood when needed.

Colin Mitchell MRCVS explains about liver diseases, and why it’s essential that you remove ragwort from your horse’s paddock.

Three most common diseases of the liver:

  1. Infection

  2. Hepatitis

  3. Ragwort poisoning

Symptoms of liver disease include:

  • Decreased appetite

  • Loss of condition

  • Pressing the head against the wall

  • Jaundice

  • Wandering in circles

  • Excessive bleeding, even from small wounds

  • Issues with the skin

Your vet will carry out a variety of blood tests to see if the liver is functioning properly. An ultrasound or liver biopsy may also be performed.

Keeping the liver healthy

Good liver function comes from a good management routine and the one thing that makes the biggest difference is managing ragwort.

“I can’t emphasise enough how toxic this plant is to horses and, once it’s taken hold, there’s very little we can do,” says Colin. 

“Pull the ragwort up by the roots with a tool especially designed for the job, let it wilt and then burn it. It there is any risk of seeds being dispersed, the flower heads can be cut off and places in sealed bags for separate disposal.

“Make sure you wear gloves as it can be toxic to humans too and always buy your hay or haylage from growers who manage the ragwort in their hay fields.”

The best time to pick ragwort, to avoid it spreading further, is before it has flowered.

Ragwort rosettes can be found from early spring onwards and have a circular cluster of leaves with a ragged appearance, usually deep green on top and covered in a cottony down underneath.

To find out more about how the liver keeps your horse healthy, read the full article in issue 447, available here.

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