Don’t let your horse eat buttercups


Does anyone else remember holding a yellow buttercup under your chin? Seems like a vague memory… Buttercups are great to look at and hold but buttercups can harm your horse. These poisonous plants found in horse pastures can cause problems for your horse’s digestive tract, and you should not let your horse eat buttercups.


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The toxicity of buttercups


  • Buttercups are a species of Ranunculus with small yellow flowers. They have a compound called ranunculin that, when chewed, is hydrolyzed to protoanemonin. When a substance is hydrolyzed, the chemical compound’s bonds are broken as water is added. Various species of buttercups will have varying levels of ranunculin, and the highest ranunculin concentrations create the greatest toxicity.


  • The resulting protoanemonin is a type of vesicant, which is a fancy way of saying that it causes blisters. This toxin is held by the leaves and stems of this ranunculus species.


  • When a horse eats buttercups, this toxin acts on their digestive system. It begins at the horse’s mouth, causing excessive salivation, much like the reaction from clovers.


  • As for clinical signs of toxicity, your horse’s mouth can develop ulcers, blisters, or sores – OUCH. If sensitive skin comes into contact with the leaves and stems, this can also happen on your horse’s lips, nose, and legs.


  • Your horse can also develop colic and diarrhea in severe cases. These conditions can be life-threatening.


  • In terrible cases, a horse may develop tremors, seizures, or paralysis.


Anytime you suspect your horse has been snacking on buttercups, talk to your veterinarian.


Read more about the clover slobbers here.


Identifying buttercups in horse and livestock pastures


  • The stems of these relatively short plants are skinny, a bit hairy, and branched. They range in height from 6 inches to about 3 feet.


  • The leaves are shaped like kidney beans and are also hairy. The upper leaves are slightly different in shape and are smaller.


  • The flowers are small, yellow, and usually have 5 or 7 petals.


  • Taller buttercup plants are perennials, meaning they return yearly.


  • Other varieties are annuals or biennials, meaning they usually don’t return yearly.


buttercups in fields


Now for the good news – buttercups taste horrible!



  • The buttercup plant is bitter and has a pungent taste; creatures are rarely willing to eat them.


  • When a horse can choose to eat anything else or a buttercup, they will NOT choose to eat this yellow flowering plant.


  • When there’s an overgrazed pasture, a horse will eat these flowers and develop buttercup toxicosis


  • The toxicity of these plants will vary depending on the type, the climate, the growing cycle, and whether your horse has eaten small or large quantities.


Some more good news – buttercups are totally harmless once they have been cut with hay and dried.


  • I can’t tell you what they taste like when dried, but you probably won’t need to worry about your horse getting sores or ill when these plants are dried out.


  • The plant is damaged during the hay-making process, and it’s presumed that the photoanemonin then morphs into anemonin. This anemonin is not a vesicant, so it won’t cause ulcers and sores for your horse. While this is largely accepted, there has been no specific research to confirm this.



Treating buttercup poisoning


  • Definitely call your vet if you suspect anything.


  • There is no cure-all for this toxicity, but your vet can treat your horse’s symptoms. This might include:
      • Pain medications for ulcers and colic discomfort.
      • Supportive fluids for diarrhea and colic.
      • Mineral oil or charcoal to help with digestive upset and colic.


  • It’s also quite important to remove your horse and the herd from situations where they are forced to eat buttercups.


horse eating very close to buttercups

Migs won’t eat them. He will eat VERY VERY VERY close to them instead.



Will your horse eat buttercups? Perhaps not with some pasture management


  • A horse eats these poisonous flowers because there are no other options. If the pasture is overgrazed, give your horse forage in the field. Slow feeders are helpful to keep your horse chewing all day.


  • Utilize the resources from your local agricultural extension service. They can help you understand your pasture’s health and how to discourage buttercup growth. Some services have a horse pasture evaluation program.


  • Avoid overgrazing, and have a plan for weed control. Your ability to use chemicals for weed control depends on a few factors – such as proximity to creeks.


  • Keep your pastures draining after wet weather well to help control this weed.


  • Rest your pastures. This is one of the best ways to let grass thrive.


  • Let the grass take over! Don’t over-mow. Grass will also thrive and block out weeds when overseeded in the fall to fill in bare or thin patches.


  • You can use herbicides with caution. Your ag extension office can help with this, too.


Read this for more pasture management tips




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