Indigofera toxicity

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Indigofera Toxicity

Grove Disease, Birdsville Disease, Creeping Indigo Toxicity

Indigofera toxicity is a nervous system disease of horses resulting from chronic and cumulative exposure to the indospicine and/or 3-nitropropionic acid (3-NPA) toxins present in certain Indigofera species. The Indigofera genus is composed of over 750 species of brightly-colored, flowering, exotic plants found in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. Indospicine (L-6-amidino-2-amino-hexanoic acid) is a non-proteinogenic amino acid found in more than 30 species within the Indigofera genus. Indospicine has the potential to interfere with the horse's arginine metabolic pathways, as arginine is a precursor for the synthesis not only of proteins but also of nitric oxide, urea, polyamines, proline, glutamate, creatine and agmatine. Indospicine has been found to accumulate in the horse's tissues, upon continued ingestion of Indigofera species, demonstrating a cumulative nature. Additionally, some Indigofera species contain 3-NPA, a neurotoxin which is thought to be the toxin responsible for the neurological syndrome observed in horses as a result of eating the plant.

Sporadic outbreaks of equine poisoning cases have occurred in specific areas, caused by species of Indigofera that contain high amounts (over 500 mg/kg DM) of the toxin indospicine. The concentration of indospicine in plants is also influenced by the growth stage, with the highest amounts found in the seeds.

In northern Brazil, I. lespedezioides is responsible for cases of poisonings in horses that occur most commonly at the end of the dry season. I. lespedezioides is found in the Americas and native to Mexico and South America. Affected horses had loss of appetite, lethargy, severe ataxia, weakness, stumbling, eye discharge, blindness, abortion in mares, and progressive weight loss. Horses are often seen dragging their hind limbs, resulting in excessive wear of the toes of their hooves. Death occurs 2-4 months after first onset of clinical signs.

In the southeastern United States, poisoning cases in horses have occurred since the 1970s from ingestion of I. hendecaphylla and I. spicata in parts of Florida. I. hendecaphylla is native to regions in Africa, Comoros, Magagascar, Reunion, Asia to Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, but was introduced to Florida, French Polynesia and Australia, where it is now naturalized and considered an invasive weed in some areas. I. spicata is native to Africa, Madagascar, Mauritis, and Yemen but was introduced to Australia, the Hawaiian islands, Japan, New Caledonia, Micronesia, and Cook Islands.

In Australia, outbreaks of poisoning cases have been associated with horses grazing I. linnaei and I. spicata; resulting in the development of a neurological syndrome known of Birdsville disease. I. linnaei is native to Australia, India, Indochina through Malesia, Melanesia to New Guinea.


Loss of appetite
Progressive incoordination
Easily stumbles
Dragging of hind feet
Progressive weight loss
Splayed stance
Abortion in mares


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Laboratory tests



Supportive care
Creatinehas been shown to provide horses with some degree of protection against the effects of the 3-NPA toxin.


  • Avoid grazing horses in paddocks infested with creeping indigo
  • Use herbicides to control large infestations.

Scientific Research

General Overviews

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Risk Factors

  • Ingestion of contaminated hay
  • Overgrazed pastures