Thehorse.com - Full Article
by: Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc
June 02 2011, Article # 18335
Purchasing hay is a ritual that many horse owners have down to a science: Select a type (i.e., grass, alfalfa, or timothy), grab a handful for a smell test, examine for dust and mold, and feed to the hungry horses waiting at home. As many hay producers will be harvesting hay in the coming weeks and months and passing the fruits of their labor on to consumers, it's important for horse owners to be aware of a tiny, toxic (and potentially fatal) tagalong in some perfectly healthy-looking alfalfa hay bales: the blister beetle.
Blister beetles naturally contain and secrete a chemical substance called cantharidin, which is extremely toxic to horses. The insects--which can be found in most parts of the United States, are ½-1 inch long, often cylindrical in shape, and can be a variety of colors--feed on alfalfa flowers and can easily, although inadvertently, be included in the hay during the baling process. Once baled in the hay, the beetles will generally appear dried up and might be crushed or broken into parts (due to the bailing equipment).
"Blister beetles tend to swarm to feed on alfalfa flowers," explained Sam L. Jones, DVM, PhD, professor of equine medicine at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. "If large enough numbers of the beetles are incorporated into baled hay, horses can ingest the beetles."
Simply touching a blister beetle--either dead or alive--is enough to cause inflammation and blistering of a horse's skin within hours of contact...
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