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By November 12, 2015 0 Comments Read More →

The Signs and Symptoms of Acorn Poisoning

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Eicheln, Herbst C

The RSPCA is urging farmers, smallholders and dog owners to be aware of the signs and symptoms of acorn poisoning. They tend to fall from oak trees between September and November, and are an important source of food for many birds and some mammals, such as squirrels, but for many animals ‒ including pets and livestock ‒ they are extremely poisonous. Many animals are susceptible to Quercus ‒ or oak bud/acorn ‒ poisoning, but cattle and sheep are the ones most often affected. However, horses and dogs can also become very ill if they consume either acorns or oak leaves.

Most species of oak are considered toxic. If animals eat young oak leaves during the spring, or acorns in autumn, symptoms of poisoning can begin as quickly as within hours, or as late as after several days. If you are concerned that your animal has eaten anything that could be poisonous, rather than waiting for any symptoms to appear, consult a veterinary surgeon immediately. Symptoms of acorn poisoning may vary between species, but include vomiting and diarrhoea, abdominal tenderness, depression, rapid weight loss, loss of appetite, tiredness and dehydration.

green leaves of an oak tree enlightened with the sun

Acorns appear to contain tannins (a type of biomolecule) which are converted to acids in the rumen; these then cause ulcerations in the digestive tract, leading to bloody diarrhoea. These acids also damage the kidneys, causing them to stop working, so toxins which are normally excreted in the urine build up in the body and cause problems in the brain and the rest of the body, and can ultimately result in death.

If cattle and sheep are already displaying signs of poisoning then the prognosis can be poor. Advice is to remove them from the source, give them plenty of water and consult a vet immediately. The vet might consider washing out the rumen via surgical procedure. Dr Emily Coughlan, the RSPCA’s ruminants scientific officer, said: “Animals are unlikely to gorge on acorns if food is plentiful, so I’d advise farmers and horse owners to ensure food doesn’t get too short in fields with oak trees. Monitor the animals and, if some are found to be eating excessive acorns, then move them to a different field or fence around the trees to limit their access.”

Although rarely reported, according to the Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS), there have been some cases of severe acorn poisoning in horses. They can suffer from a range of symptoms, including colic, haemorrhagic diarrhoea, weakness, head pressing, and incoordination.

Dogs have also been known to fall ill if they have eaten acorns. Symptoms among dogs can include vomiting and diarrhoea, tiredness and loss of appetite. Dr Samantha Gaines, head of the RSPCA’s companion animals department, said: “It is difficult to watch your dog’s every movement, but if owners are concerned that their dog is showing interest in or eating acorns, then it might be best to find a different place to exercise away from where oak trees are present, or take along something really tasty like a toy or treat so that their pet can be easily distracted and recalled.”

If you are concerned your animal may have been poisoned, contact the vet and tell them when, where and how the poisoning occurred. Follow the vet’s advice and never attempt to treat or medicate your pet yourself. Never attempt to make your dog vomit on your own, and never use salt water.
Poisoning in dogs
What to do if you think your dog’s been poisoned:
Stay calm and remove your dogs from the source of the poison.
Contact your vet immediately and inform them when, where and how the poisoning occurred. If appropriate, bring the packaging, plant or substance along to the vet. Don’t expose yourself to any harm.
Follow your vet’s advice. Never attempt to treat/medicate dogs yourself. Some medicines for humans and other animals may be poisonous to dogs.
Never attempt to make dogs vomit and do not use salt water as it’s extremely dangerous.
If skin/fur is contaminated, wash with mild shampoo and water, rinse well and dry.
Keep dogs away from other animals to avoid cross-contamination.
Never ‘watch and wait’. If you suspect your pet’s been poisoned, contact a vet immediately.

This information was provided by the RSPCA (


About the Author:

Paul Melnyczuk is editor of Home Farmer, and together with Ruth Tott is the founder of the company. His Ukrainian father and Austrian mother came over in the 1950s, and he was raised near Accrington (of Stanley fame) in Lancashire. With a degree in European Literature and a year spent living in Sweden, and a further 2 years in the Sudan, his background is rich and varied.

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