Strangles is one of the most common diseases diagnosed in horses worldwide, with over 600 outbreaks estimated to occur throughout the UK every year. Strangles can affect any age, sex or breed of horse and is feared among the equine community due to its because of its debilitating effects and its potential economic impact on equestrian businesses.
Strangles is a disease caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus equi that can be easily spread directly via horse to horse contact and indirectly through contaminated equipment, handler clothing and boots etc.
Whilst strangles is not spread through the air (airborne), the bacteria can spread when a horse with strangles coughs or snorts.
- High temperature, above 38.5°C
- Lethargy/dull and depressed
- Reluctance to eat/drink, difficulty swallowing and/or a lowered head and neck
- A cough (although not always present or as common)
- Thick and discoloured nasal discharge
- Swelling of the glands under the jaw (lymph nodes), in the space between the head and neck, or on the head or neck which may lead to the formation of abscesses
The abscesses which cause the lymph nodes to swell can burst, discharging highly infectious, thick, creamy-yellow pus. In some cases the glands swell so much they restrict the airway, hence the name strangles.
Some horses may only show mild signs such as a mild fever, other forms of nasal discharge, a slight loss of appetite or even no signs at all. This is called ‘atypical strangles’. Horses with atypical strangles may go unnoticed but they can still shed the infection to others. If you do notice your horse is showing mild signs it is always sensible to isolate them as a precaution and contact us for advice.
It normally takes 3-14 days after the horse has been in contact with the strangles bacteria for signs to develop (incubation period). However, there have been times where it has taken up to 28 days.
Steps to follow if you suspect strangles
- Isolate the horse that is showing signs of strangles and any other horses that have had direct contact with that horse. Also isolate those which have/may have had indirect contact with the horse
- Call us for advice and to examine the horse showing signs. Your vet is likely to take samples that will be sent off to the lab to diagnose whether the horse has strangles or not
- Contact owners of the affected horse and owners of all other horses on the yard to explain the situation and what procedures must be followed to help prevent the spread
- The yard should be on ‘lock down’- no horses moving on or off the yard to help prevent the spread of disease
- Keep a very close eye on all other horses on the yard for any sign of strangles. It is vital to check their temperatures at least twice a day as any rise in temperature could be an early sign of strangles. Keep us informed of any suspected new cases.
- Spread the word, not the disease. It’s important to let people know, such as your farrier and neighbouring equine property, that you have a suspected or confirmed case of strangles. Strangles can have an unjustified and unhelpful stigma associated with it which may cause people to keep an outbreak to themselves. This can increase the risk of spread. Let’s break down the stigma surrounding strangles, help prevent the spread and do the responsible thing by speaking out!