Equine strangles is a taboo subject among many horse owners. There is no legal obligation for a yard with an outbreak of strangles to notify any authorities, so with the stigma attached to the disease, this can cause many problems and can be the cause of endemics.
Here are 10 things that you should know about equine strangles, from the symptoms to what to do if there is an outbreak.
1 – Symptoms of strangles
- Loss of appetite
- Raised temperature
- Nasal discharge
- Swollen glands in the throat (lymph nodes)
- Difficulty eating
- Rupture of the glands (pus)
- Depression and dullness
2 – Incubation period
The incubation period of strangles can be up to 14 days, with abscesses sometimes taking up to a week after that to appear. The incubation period starts when the horse has been in contact with the bacteria (Streptococcus Equi).
There can be no outward signs of strangles within the incubation period.
3 – Spread of strangles
Strangles is an extremely contagious disease and can be spread easily. It can be spread by direct contact, shared items or environments such as fields, water troughs, wheel barrows etc. Transference also occurs via third party contact such as handling the horses, clothing, tack and much more.
Travelling to shows and events can also help to spread the bacteria and should be avoided until the yard has the all clear.
4 – Carriers
Some horses can make a complete recovery and be showing no outward signs or symptoms, yet can still be carrying the bacteria. 1 in 10 horses that recover can become carriers even when healthy. These carriers can shed the bacteria for months or even years.
5 – Treatment
A lot of horses suffering with strangles will just require love and extra attention, nursing, rest and anti-inflammatory drugs. Feeding hay and food on the floor can help with draining. The use of anti-biotics and penicillin in treating strangles is controversial as there is debate around whether they work.
Treatment should always be discussed with your vet.
6 – Quarantine
One of the main things that needs to be done with an outbreak of strangles is to try to stop it from spreading and infecting other horses. If there is a horse on your yard diagnosed with strangles then it is advised to treat all horses on the yard as if they are infected too until the incubation period has passed. People shouldn’t hack out or visit other yards as it can be carried on the horse and on your vehicle.
Farriers, vets and other professionals should be notified before they visit the yard.
Riding schools, show grounds and other businesses may have to close short term.
7 – Complications
As above, one complication can be a healthy horse becoming a carrier. Other issues can be when the disease progresses to bastard strangles. This is where the infection spreads and causes abscesses to form in the lymph nodes and organs and can be fatal, it can also trigger purpura hamorrhagica, which causes bleeding from the gums and into the lungs, this is often fatal.
8 – Vaccine
There is now a vaccine available for strangles. It works best if the whole yard has the vaccination and has to be kept up to date with regular boosters.
Speak to your vet about your options.
9 – Precautions to take
- Foot baths of disinfectant
- Changing all outer clothes and boots
- Hot washing clothes
- Avoid contact with other horses
- Warn other local yards and owners
- Monitor the horses temperature regularly
- Quarantine suspected horses
- Inform farriers, physio, dentist etc of infection
- Quarantine new horses
- Avoid sharing tack and equipment
10 – Recovery
Most horses recover quickly from strangles, although some are very ill the mortality rate is as low as 1-3%. As discussed some horses can become carriers and some can move on to further complications. However, with good care and the proper precautions take, most horses will get over strangles very quickly. Most horses that get over strangles aquire a lifelong immunity.