Mycotoxin poisoning in livestock
Mycotoxins are formed as a by-product of fungi and mould growth. These compounds can be quite varied chemically, however, a number of them pose serious risk to human and animal health.
As with any livestock farming, animal health and wellbeing is closely linked with production and overall profitability. Reducing the effects of any mycotoxins ingested by animals is vital.
Common types of mycotoxins
Not all types of moulds or fungi produce toxins, and not all are dangerous to human or livestock health. Interestingly, different types of mould may actually produce the same mycotoxin. This, the species of mould or fungi, and the toxins products are considered separately.
The most common types of mycotoxins that can cause issues are;
- Fumonisins – the most widespread varieties.
- Zearalenone (ZON) – previously known as “RAL” or “F-2 mycotoxin”.
- T2 & HT2 Toxins.
- Deoxynivalenol (DON) – also known as “vomitoxin”.
- Cyclopiazonic Acid.
Whilst there are further varieties of mycotoxins, they are typically less common than the above.
How to recognise mycotoxin poisoning in livestock
As with any type of poisoning, symptoms of mycotoxin poisoning may present similar to other forms of disease or illness, depending on severity. From an animal health perspective, the following factors are important to consider:
- Animal feed displays a large volume of fungus or spores. This could be a clear indication to investigate further, however, it does not necessarily mean that toxins have been produced.
- Outbreaks of illness are seasonal. Mould and fungi growth is closely linked with environmental conditions (mainly temperature and humidity). Because of this, mould and toxins may be more prevalent at certain times of the year.
- Illness is not easy to identify. Because individual animals can present with widely varying symptoms, mycotoxin poisoning is not typically easy to identify.
- Not transmitted between animals. Mycotoxicosis is caused by poisoning due to ingestion of contaminated feed. It is not transferred between animals.
- Association with specific feed types. The incidence of illness may be more frequent with particular types of stock feed. This may be the result of mould or fungi being drawn to a particular ingredient in the feed.
- Resistance to drugs. Vaccines may become less effective.
The range of effects from poisoning can vary significantly, from immune suppression to mortality.
The symptoms of mycotoxin poisoning in animals
Some of the signs of mycotoxins in beef & dairy cattle and other ruminants may be:
- Rough coat.
- Diarrhoea and other gastric issues.
- Impaired rumen function and decreased digestion.
- Decreased conception rates or infertility and abortions.
- Lower weight gain.
- Reduced milk production and toxin residues in milk.
- Suppression of the immune system.
- Neurological effects.
- Increased incidence of mastitis is possible.
Some of the signs of mycotoxins in poultry, pigs, and other monogastrics are:
- Impaired feathering, oral lesions and gizzard erosion.
- Increased water consumption and renal dysfunction, due to kidney issues.
- Liver damage.
- Reduced feed intake, feed conversion ratio (FCR) and productivity.
- Reduction in egg production, including size, weight, and shell quality.
- Haemorrhages, anaemia, and bruising in broilers.
- Immune disruption and possible increase risk of secondary infection in poultry and pigs.
- Diarrhoea, vomiting, haemorrhaging and necrosis of gastro-intestinal tract in pigs.