Maple leaves are toxic to horses


This is a complicated situation, but the bottom line is that red maple leaves are toxic to horses and can kill a horse.  And despite our wishes that horses are smart enough not to eat toxic things, they will.  


There are varying shades of unknowns regarding other maple trees, how much your horse eats, and if the leaves are green, wilted, or dried. This, naturally, makes me consider all maple leaves at all stages of life from all types of maple trees a possible hazard. Better safe than sorry, right?


Jump to shopping – resources for horse owners and toxic plants


There’s at least one substance in maple leaves, gallic acid, that is dangerous.


  • Researchers believe there is more than one toxin, but this one seems to be the big one. When leaves are green and on the branches, the leaves are mostly water, thus diluting the amount of gallic acid.


  • As leaves wither and dry, the water disappears, and the concentration of gallic acid increases in the leaves. It is believed that concentrations of gallic acid also vary with the age of the tree, the climate, the type of maple, lots of different factors. All of which really can’t be predicted.


  • It does take a horse eating about one to two pounds of wilted or dried leaves to be affected by the poison. That seems like a lot of leaves, considering they weigh as much as air, but have you ever known a horse to turn down a tasty snack in mass quantities?


red and yellow leaves on the ground



Signs your horse is in danger from the toxins doing damage


  • Your horse will be sluggish, have colic, and probably stop eating. You will also find dark and discolored gums, a rapid pulse, and almost black urine.


  • The toxins in maple leaves act on the red blood cells of your horse, causing them to stop carrying oxygen. The red blood cells may also break.


  • These events cause a chain reaction in your horse, that essentially clogs the kidneys and puts your horse into an anemic state.


  • Here’s the critical part – once symptoms develop, your horse’s chance of survival decreases. If you catch your horse eating maple leaves, call the veterinarian even if he looks fine. 


There is no antidote or cure, so early intervention with supportive treatments like fluids is key.


Check your farm for maples


  • If you have maple trees around your farm or barn, be sensible about raking leaves and keeping the paddocks and turnouts far away from any maple trees.


  • You will still find stray leaves, especially after storms and in the fall, so have a plan for dealing with that. Removal of the maple trees is an option, too. You might also talk with your veterinarian and factor in the type of maple – red maples being the typical and severe danger, with other species being risky to some degree.


Read this for more types of toxic plants and trees 


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