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Slobbers in Horses

Our current weather conditions have been wet and cool, which is perfect growing conditions for clover in our pastures. As horses are getting acclimated to the green grass, some people may notice that their horse is drooling after being out on pasture. The horse is usually not exhibiting any other symptoms and looks completely normal…..other than the ropes of saliva coming out of its mouth.   

The drooling is most likely caused by a fungus that grows on legumes (red and white clover, alfalfa). This condition is known as Slaframine toxicosis or Slobbers.  The causative fungus is called Rhizoctonia leguminicola and is commonly known as black patch. This fungus is most abundant in the cool damp weather that is seen in the spring and in the fall.  The fungus produces a toxin that causes irritation to the gums and tongue of the horse and thus causes the horse to salivate……sometimes profusely. This fungus can be present in hay as well, but the fungus decreases as the hay ages.   

Slobbers is usually harmless and self-limiting once the horse is away from the fungus, but other symptoms can occur such as colic and diarrhea. Slobbers should not be confused with Vesicular Stomatitis (VS), which is another disease that can cause excessive salivation. Though this disease (VS) is uncommon in our area you should always check with your veterinarian to make sure.   

So, what can you do for your horse? First, take the horse off the offending pasture and feed hay instead. The drooling will subside as the irritating toxin gets out of the horse’s system, which is usually around a couple of days. Mowing the pasture will help decrease the amount of infected plants. Prevention is difficult, but you can try to limit exposure to clover filled pastures until the weather gets warmer and dries up.

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