Pony owner warns others about sycamores in autumn

Lauren Day of Lauder who's pony died of a rare disease eating sycamore leaves.
Lauren Day of Lauder who's pony died of a rare disease eating sycamore leaves.

A rare disease caused by sycamore seeds and diagnosed by a Duns vet has claimed the life a much-loved Borders pony.

Former animal care student Lauren Day of Barlogan House, Lauder lost her first horse, Bambi, to atypical myopathy (muscle disease).

Lauren Day's pony

Lauren Day's pony

The 19-year-old explained: “I have never heard of it before. Bambi was a happy horse, she was fine, there was nothing wrong with her, and one day she was really, really ill. I thought ‘oh no what’s happening?’ and the next thing she was gone. It wasn’t good.”

The three-year-old 14.2hh New Forest cross pony had become ill after eating sycamore seeds, which contain a substance toxic to horses, causing pain in their muscles which eventually break down.

Lauren said: “She was lying down in the field in the morning, I never see her lying down and I thought ‘something’s wrong with her’.

“She was restless. I put her in the stable and she just collapsed.

“The vets thought at first it was colic. They did a rectal examination and her bladder was so big they wondered what was up.

They put in a catheter and the urine that came out was really dark. Then they thought maybe it was something to do with the sycamore and phoned the vet who confirmed it.

It breaks down the muscle, which goes into the bloodstream and is excreted through their urine, hence why the urine was so dark.

“She really wouldn’t have survived if she had been taken up to the hospital, it was kinder to put her down.”

By 2pm that day Lauren had lost her first pony.

She said: “I bought Bambi from a friend on Facebook. I noticed she was selling her pony and I went to see her and fell in love with her straight away.

“I was very, very upset I still am, I don’t think about anything else apart from her.”

It was only earlier this year that Belgium vets published their European study, saying sycamore seeds were the likely cause of the myopathy. American vets had earlier found a similar tree in the US caused the same.

Duns vet Colin Tait, who diagnosed Bambi’s condition, said it was the first case he had seen in the Borders since setting up practice here four years ago. He said: “It’s a very severe disease and the muscles get very painful very quickly. It carries a pretty poor prognosis.

“We were fortunate in Bambi’s case that Lauren was on the ball and spotted it early.

“Often horses present more with muscle weakness and they can be very stiff, they are often down, recumbent, by the time the owner finds them and people can’t get them up.”

Vets were currently saving about a quarter of horses affected and he said about 20 European countries had reported cases in the last 10 years.

Mr Tait suggests, if possible, moving horses to pasture where no sycamore seeds have fallen, fencing off affected areas, removing the leaves and seeds from the area, providing hay when grazing is poor, but not putting it on the ground and giving them concentrate feed.