Strangles. A nightmare for any horse owner, strangles is highly contagious and frequently spread through competitions. Learn more about strangles and how to keep your horse safe from it.
What Is It?
Strangles is an upper respiratory infection which can be spread from horse to horse by nasal discharge. It’s highly contagious, to the point that two horses sharing a feed or water bucket, or even coming into contact with each other, can spread the disease. If it’s present at a competition, it can be devastating, rapidly spreading from barn to barn.
What Are The Symptoms?
Horses with strangles frequently present with a fever, increased nasal discharge, and swelling in the lymph node and throatlatch areas. The swelling can be severe, and can result in the lymph nodes rupturing. These sick horses often look dull and listless, and they may have a decreased appetite. Abscesses can develop between the horse’s throat and jaw, and when they burst, the pus can also transmit the disease.
What Is the Danger?
Strangles can kill. It’s highly contagious, and the disease lasts for an average of 23 days. Barn-wide infections are very possible unless all infected horses are quarantined, and strangles can even spread to other areas of the horse’s body, a condition called bastard strangles. Abscess sites must be kept clean to prevent infection, and the lymph node swelling can also present complications.
How Do You Treat It?
Infected horses must first be isolated from all of the healthy horses. Strangles can be treated with antibiotics, but an infected horse can spread the disease to others before anyone realizes that the horse is infected. If you suspect your horse may have strangles, call your vet right away for a definite diagnosis and to start treatment.
How Do You Prevent It?
Strangles vaccines are available, and you should vaccinate your horse yearly, especially if you will be traveling to a show or if horses frequently come and go at your barn. Be sure to isolate any new horses which arrive until you are positive they are not infected.
Infected horses must be fully quarantined, ideally in a separate barn. All equipment must be disinfected, and ideally separate facilities and equipment should be used only for the infected horses, to avoid cross-contamination. Handlers must use biosecurity precautions such as changing clothes after working with infected horses, and frequently washing their hands.
Strangles is much easier to prevent than it is to treat in a barn setting. Vaccinate your horses and do your best to keep them separated from other horses at any competitions you attend.