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Drought responsible for dozens of deaths from cow poisoning in Italy

Some Piedmontese cattle on the farm in northwestern Italy died suddenly from prussic acid poisoning.

An Italian farm became an open-air morgue earlier this month after about 50 cows were poisoned by young sorghum plants, an accident experts believe is the cause of drought.

The Piedmontese cattle on the farm in Sommariva del Bosco, near Turin in northwestern Italy, died suddenly on Aug. 6 from acute prussic acid poisoning, the local animal welfare organization IZS said.

This acid comes from dhurrin, which is naturally present in young sorghum plants, although not in the same high concentrations as those found in samples taken at the site.

“We suspect that the drought caused this very large amount of dhurrin in the sorghum plants,” said Stefano Giantin, a veterinarian at the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale for northwestern Italy, who is handling the case.

In normal growing plants, the amount of dhurrin would decrease as the plants grew in size. But because the ongoing drought has stunted the growth of sorghum plants, dhurrin has focused on it.

Prussian acidosis in cattle is rapid and brutal, with symptoms occurring 10-15 minutes after ingestion and death about 15-30 minutes later. It causes respiratory, nervous and muscle disorders.

Dhurrin occurs naturally in sorghum, especially in young shoots that use it as a defense against herbivores, but when digested, it releases prussic acid, also known as hydrogen cyanide.

  • The only way to save affected cows is to inject them with sodium thiosulfate to neutralize the hydrogen cyanide

    The only way to save affected cows is to inject them with sodium thiosulfate to neutralize the hydrogen cyanide.

  • Sorghum picked up from the same field where the 50 cows were poisoned is sent for lab testing

    Sorghum picked up in the same field where the 50 cows were poisoned is sent for lab testing.

But “normally it doesn’t cause death,” Giantin told AFP.

In the samples from Sommariva del Bosco, the concentration of dhurrin in the shoots was at an unusually high level, which, according to Giantin, appeared to be the result of the drought that hit Italy and much of Europe this summer.

A dose above 700 mg/kg prussic acid is considered lethal to cattle, but the animals at Sommariva were found to have levels above 900 mg/kg in their blood.

The only way to save affected cows is to inject them with sodium thiosulfate to neutralize the hydrogen cyanide.

With this, experts were able to save about 30 cows on August 11, when three more farms in Piedmont were affected by the same phenomenon – although not before 14 died.


Characteristics of a metabolon that produces the defense compound dhurrin in sorghum revealed


© 2022 AFP

Quote: Drought responsible for dozens of deaths from cow poisoning in Italy (2022, Aug. 18) retrieved Aug. 18, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-drought-blamed-dozens-cow-poisoning.html

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