Paspalum Staggers in Horses

Key takeaways

Paspalum staggers in horses is a rare neurological condition caused by the ingestion of dallis grass (Paspalum dilatatum) that is infested by parasitic fungi.

  • Dallis grass is not toxic on its own, and only causes staggers when infested with fungi, generally during warm wet weather
  • Symptoms of paspalum staggers include incoordination, muscle weakness, and convulsions
  • Diagnosis of paspalum staggers is based on history of exposure to the plant, feed testing, and symptoms
  • Unfortunately, there is no antidote or specific treatment for paspalum staggers; as such, prevention is of the utmost importance
  • Prognosis is generally good, with affected animals recovering rapidly once the source of the toxin is removed
  • While not directly life-threatening, paspalum staggers can cause severe injuries due to the lack of coordination
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A closer look: Paspalum Staggers in Horses

Paspalum staggers is a rare condition. The death rate for paspalum staggers is low, but affected animals are at high risk of injury due to incoordination; as such, affected horses warrant prompt attention.

Risk factors

With prolonged exposure to contaminated paspalum, horses can develop weight loss due to reduced mobility and reduced access to feed. In severe cases, complete paralysis and collapse can occur.

Possible causes

Paspalum grass is not toxic in and of itself. Staggers is caused by the ingestion of plants infested by Claviceps paspali and Claviceps clavispora fungi. Toxins produced by the fungi affect the muscles upon ingestion, often resulting in tremors.

The fungi are more likely to be present during humid and warm days, especially during the autumn months.

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis of paspalum staggers is primarily based on history of exposure to the plant, symptoms, and detection of the fungi on seedheads in the animal’s feed. In some cases, laboratory testing for the toxin is conducted.

Steps to Recovery

Once diagnosed, treatment options are limited and include the following:

  • Removal of fungus-contaminated paspalum sources
  • Providing adequate amounts of uncontaminated feed
  • Symptomatic and supportive treatment including IV fluids and electrolytes
  • Keeping animals in a safe environment until they recover

While prognosis for paspalum staggers is generally good, it is dependent on the amount of toxin ingested, the severity of symptoms, and the timing of treatment. Death is uncommon, but affected horses are at higher risk of injury due to incoordination and falling down.

Affected animals generally recover once the source of the toxin is removed.


Paspalum staggers are not contagious.

Paspalum staggers is prevented by ensuring that horses do not feed on infested dallis grass. Strategies include:

  • Removing infested grass from pastures
  • Examining forage prior to feeding
  • Providing abundant alternative feed

Is Paspalum Staggers in Horses common?

Paspalum staggers is a very rare condition. Paspalum fungal infestation is more common during warm and wet weather.

Typical Treatment

Removal of toxin source Supportive care

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