Horse owners are being urged to be extra careful with wholewheat grain following the death of four horses who gorged themselves in Worcestershire last month.

Vet Anne Gibbs, from the MacArthur, Barstow and Gibbs practice, is warning of the grain’s toxicity to horses, sheep and cattle.

“Wholewheat grain brews up in the stomach and is very dangerous,” she told H&H.“It releases gas and causes inflammation of the gut leading to extreme colic.”

Two horses were found dead in the field by their owners at 6pm on 3 August. A further two had to be euthanased.

The horses had got at grain in a barn backing on to the field where they were grazing.

“It had been made into a makeshift grain store, the floor had been covered with plastic and a bit of it was sticking out of a small hole, said Ms Gibbs.

“The horses pulled on it to release the grain. The reaction to wheat is extremely fast. We had no idea what had happened,” she added. But a post mortem showed they died from grain intake.

Ms Gibbs said she had never seen an incident like this.

“We’ve had cases in the past where a horse has escaped into a field, but as they ate the stalk and husk, it was treatable.

“Some farmers are now diversifying, especially in these tough economic times, and taking in liveries, so if your horse is on a farm, you need to be aware of the dangers.”

Nutritionist Teresa Hollands from Dodson & Horrell told H&H: “Any rapid intake of food a horse is not used to will cause problems.

“But wholewheat is very high in uncooked starch, which is not digested properly in the hind gut, causing changes in blood flow and a build up of lactic acid — leading to colic and poisoning.”

Neither the horses’ owners nor the farmer who owned the barn were available to comment.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (23 September, ’10)