Bovis ISSN 2398-2993

Lupine poisoning

Synonym(s): Crooked calf disease, Lupine toxicity

Contributor(s): Tiffany Blackett , Sophie Mahendran

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  • There are potentially two different types of toxin exposure associated with Lupinus species:
    • Direct lupine plant poisoning (lupine poisoning) as a result of the toxic alkaloids in bitter lupine plants.
    • Lupinosis – this is a mycotoxic condition caused by the ingestion of lupines contaminated by a specific type of fungus. This condition is largely associated with the use of sweet lupines as fodder, and is not due to the alkaloid toxins in the plant.
  • This entry only refers to poisoning from lupine plants and not lupinosis.
  • Cause: the ingestion of wild (ie bitter) lupines or lupine garden plants containing high levels of toxic alkaloids.
  • Signs:
    • Acute toxicity: ataxia, muscle weakness and recumbency.
    • Crooked calf disease: congenital skeletal deformities and cleft palate.
  • Diagnosis: alkaloid concentrations of lupine plant material and history of exposure.
  • Treatment: supportive care and removal from the source of lupines.
  • Prognosis:
    • Acute poisoning: recovery is possible.
    • Crooked calf disease: poor for calves with severe malformations.



  • The various species of wild lupines can contain different types of alkaloids which can vary in toxicity. 
  • Individual plants of a particular wild lupine species can contain different quantities of alkaloid toxins.
  • Wild/bitter lupine seeds and the young plant foliage contain the greatest concentrations of toxic alkaloids.
  • Even dry wild lupine plant material is poisonous, for example hay consisting of lupine plant material could cause toxic effects.

Predisposing factors


  • The amount of lupine plant material eaten and over what timeframe.
  • Individual animal grazing behaviors.
  • Availability of and access to other forage.


  • The animal’s pregnancy status – if a cow grazes lupines containing teratogenic alkaloids between day 40 and day 70 of gestation, then the calf may be born with crooked calf disease.


  • Different species of lupines can contain either quinolizidine or piperidine alkaloids, or some species contain both.
  • The most common alkaloid toxins in lupines are the quinolizidine alkaloids.
  • The quinolizidine alkaloid anagyrine and the piperidine alkaloids ammodendrine, n-methyl ammodendrine and n-acetyl- hystrine, are the main teratogenic alkaloids in bitter lupines.
  • It is thought that the teratogenic alkaloids inhibit movement of the fetus due to a neuromuscular blocking effect: this lack of or decreased fetal movement causes the congenital skeletal deformities, as well as cleft palate, that are seen in crooked calf disease.
  • In general, if teratogenic alkaloids are grazed by a cow, between day 40 and 70 of gestation, then her calf is at high risk of crooked calf disease. 
  • There could still be a risk of the occurrence of congenital calf deformities even if teratogenic alkaloids are ingested up to day 120 of gestation.
  • The quinolizidine alkaloids in some species of lupines can cause acute toxicity.
  • The alkaloids in lupines are quickly excreted in the urine.


  • In cattle, crooked calf disease is more often seen than the acute presentation. 
  • Large amounts of bitter lupines eaten in a short timeframe could cause acute toxicity:
    • Clinical effects can appear rapidly or up to 24 hours post exposure, governed by the quantity of plant material eaten.


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Payne J & Murphy A (2014) Plant poisoning in farm animals. In Practice 36, 455-465.
  • Lee S T, Panter K E, Gay C C, Pfister J A, Ralphs M H, Gardner D R, Stegelmeier B L, Motteram E S, Cook D, Welch K D, Green B T & Davis T Z (2008) Lupine-induced crooked calf disease: the last 20 years. Rangelands 30 (6), 13-18.
  • Bunch T D, Panter K E, James L F (1992) Ultrasound studies of the effects of certain poisonous plants on uterine function and fetal development in livestock.  Journal of Animal Science 70, 1639-1643 PubMed.
  • Panter K E & James L F (1990) Natural plant toxicants in milk: a review. Journal of Animal Science 68, 992-904 PubMed.
  • Panter K E, Keeler R F, Bunch T D & Callan R J (1990) Congenital skeletal malformations and cleft palate induced in goats by ingestion of Lupinus, Conium and Nictiana species. Toxicon 28 (12), 1377-1385 PubMed.
  • Keeler R F (1978) Reducing incidence of plant-caused congenital deformities in livestock by grazing management. Journal of range management 31 (5), 355-360
  • Keeler R F (1975) Toxins and teratogens of higher plants. Lloydia 38 (1), 56-86
  • Keeler R F (1972) Known and suspected teratogenic hazards in range plants. Clinical toxicology 5 (4), 529-565 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Ditomaso J M & Kyser G B et al (2013) Lupines. In: Weed control in natural areas in the western United States. Weed research and Information Center, University of California.
  • Forero L, Nader G, Craiggmill A, Ditomaso J M, Puschner B & Maas J (2011) Livestock poisoning plants of California. University of California: Agriculture and Natural.
  • Cook D, Lee S T, Gardner D R, Pfister J A, Welch K D, Green B T, Davis T Z & Panter K E (2011) Lupine-induced ‘crooked calf disease’ in Washington and Oregon: identification of the alkaloid profiles of Lupinus sericeus, Lupinus sulphurous, and Lupinus leucophyllus. In: Poisoning by plants, mycotoxins and related toxins. Eds: Riet-Correa F, Pfister J P, Schild A L & Wierenga A L. CABI International. Chapter 97. pp 566-571. 
  • Dauncey E A (2010) Lupinus.  In: Poisonous plants - a guide for parents and childcare providers.  Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. pp 122.
  • Holder T (2009) Lupine toxicity. In: Blackwell’s Five-minute veterinary consult: Ruminant. Ed: Haskell S R R.Wiley-Blackwell. pp 492-493.
  • Majak W, Brooke B M & Ogilvie R T (2008) Lupine, Pea Family, Fabaceae (Leguminosae). In: Stock poisoning plants of western Canada. pp 39-41.
  • Ralphs M H, Panter K E, Gay C, Motteram E & Lee S T (2007) Cattle grazing velvet lupine (Lupinus leucophyllus): influence of associated forages, alkaloid levels and population cycles. In: Poisonous plants – global research and studies. Eds: Panter K E, Wierenga T L & Pfister A. CABI International. Chapter 67. pp 401-406.
  • Gay C C, Panter K E, Motteram E, Gay J H M, Hantz H, Wierenga T & Platt T (2007) Risk factors for lupine induced crooked calf disease in east-central Washington state. In: Poisonous plants – global research and studies. Eds: Panter K E, Wierenga T L & Pfister A. CABI International. Chapter 27. pp 156-163.
  • Gay C C, Motteram E S, Panter K E & Wierenga T  (2007) Year to year variation in alkaloid concentration of Lupinus leucophyllus growing on the scablands of central Washington. In: Poisonous plants – global research and studies. Eds: Panter K E, Wierenga T L & Pfister A. CABI International. Chapter 70. pp 414-419.
  • Panter K E, Gardner D R, Lee S T, Pfister J A, Ralphs M H, Stegelmeier B L & James L J (2007) Important poisonous plants of the United States: Lupines (Lupinus spp.). In: Veterinary Toxicology, Basic and Clinical principles. Ed: Gupta R C. Elservier Inc. Chapter 66. pp 837-842.
  • Panter K E, James L F, Wierenga T L, Gay C C, Motteram E S, Lee S T, Gardner D R, Pfister J A, Ralphs M H & Stegelmeier B L (2007) Research on lupine induced “crooked calf disease” at the Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory: past, present and future. In: Poisonous plants – global research and studies. Eds: Panter K E, Wierenga T R & Pfister A. CABI International. Chapter 10, pp 58-65.
  • Poppenga R H (2005) Toxicologic differentials for impaired livestock reproduction.  77th Western Veterinary Conference, Las Vegas, 20-24th February 2005.
  • Panter K E (2004) Piperidine alkaloids. In: Clinical veterinary toxicology. Ed: Plumlee K H. Mosby Inc. pp 365-368.
  • Panter K E (2004) Quinolizidine alkaloids. In: Clinical veterinary toxicology. Ed: Plumlee K H.  Mosby Inc. pp 377-379.
  • Cooper M R, Johnson A W & Dauncey E A (2003) Lupin - Lupinus species. In: Poisonous plants and fungi: an illustrated guide. 2nd edn. The Stationary Office. pp 75-76.
  • Cooper M R & Johnson A W (1998) Lupinus species – Lupins. In: Poisonous plants and fungi in Britain: animal and human poisonings. 1st edn. The Stationary Office. pp 137-138.
  • Putnam D H, Oplinger E S, Hardman L L & Doll J (1989) Lupine. In: Alternative field crops manual. University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota. Accessed on 11th September 2016 at
  • Keeler R F (1972) Effect of natural teratogens in poisonous plants on fetal development in domestic animals. In: Drugs and fetal development. Eds: Klinberg M A, Abramovici A & Chemke J.  Plenum Publishing Corporation, New York. pp 107-125.
  • Kingsbury J M (1964) Lupinus spp. Lupine, bluebonnet. In: Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada. Prentice Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. pp 333-341.
  • Lawrence W E (1922) The principal stock-poisoning plants of Oregan. Oregon Agricultural College Experimental Station. Station Bulletin 187.