Persimmon Ingestion and Colic: A Retrospective Study

Persimmon trees, commonly found in the southeastern United States, produce a fruit that's often enticing to horses and other equids. Consuming this fruit, however, can be deadly; its fibers and seeds can create an obstruction within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, resulting in potentially serious impaction colic.

"Usually a persimmon phytobezoar (impaction of plant material) is suspected based on history of access to persimmon trees," explained Heidi Banse, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, a doctoral candidate at Oklahoma State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. "Often times, other types of colic are ruled out on initial examination and routine colic diagnostics, including a rectal examination, abdominocentesis (a belly tap), and abdominal ultrasound."

Banse and colleagues recently evaluated 13 equid cases in which persimmon ingestion had led to a phytobezoar, to better characterize the ailment. The researchers noted clinical signs of persimmon phytobezoars, assessed differing treatments for the condition, and compared the prognosis of equids with gastric vs. intestinal persimmon phytobezoars.

The 10 horses, two donkeys, and one pony in the study were admitted between October 2001 and November 2008 to five veterinary teaching hospitals across the United States. All affected animals showed clinical signs of including colic, unexplained weight loss, anorexia, or diarrhea that persisted from five hours (colic) to six weeks (chronic diarrhea) prior to hospital admission.

Once veterinarians had diagnosed a persimmon phytobezoar via gastroscopy or gastroduodenoscopy, common treatment methods included:

  • Oral or intragastric administration of carbonated cola, cellulase (protein aiding in dissolution of phytobezoar), or mineral oil;
  • Intrapersimmon phytobezoar injections with acetylcysteine;
  • Diet modification with pelleted feed ("to decrease the amount of fiber that can add to the concretion of the bezoar," said Banse.); and
  • Surgery if medical management was unsuccessful.

The team noted that the phytobezoar's location seemed to greatly affect the prognosis: seven of eight equids with gastric phytobezoars (those in the stomach) survived while only one of five with enteric phytobezoars (those in the intestines) survived.

"The apparent differences in prognosis between gastric and enteric persimmon phytobezoars may be due to difficulties in diagnosis and treatment of enteric persimmon phytobezoars," Banse concluded.

Owners can help prevent colic induced by persimmon ingestion by ensuring there are no persimmon plants located in horses' turnout areas or within horses' reach. In the event a persimmon phytobezoar is suspected, consult a veterinarian early as quick treatment increases the likelihood of a better prognosis.

The study, "Gastric and enteric phytobezoars caused by ingestion of persimmon in equids," was published in the October 2011 Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association. The abstract is available online.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.