What is Strangles?
Equine Strangles is a bacterial infection (Streptococcus equi subspecies equi) of the upper respiratory tract of horses, causing enlargement of the lymph nodes in the throat, which may impair breathing.
Strangles is highly contagious and is one of the most commonly diagnosed equine infectious diseases worldwide. There are around 600 outbreaks of Strangles reported each year in the UK alone.
Managing and Preventing Strangles
The Strangles bacteria is transmitted via the nose or the mouth, either through contact with infected discharges or via water troughs or contaminated clothing and tack. Unlike some viruses, such as foot and mouth, the strangles bacteria will not be blown far in the wind.
Some horses may carry the infection but show no outwardly signs. The main signs include:
- ‘snotty’ nasal discharge
- fever & temperature above 38.5°c
- loss of appetite
- lymph node swelling and abscesses predominantly of the head and neck
- difficulty eating or extending his head, due to the discomfort in its throat, which is where the name strangles originated.
Healthy adult horses may only show subtle signs of the infection, so early detection and testing is imperative to prevent the spread of Strangles. The horse should be immediately isolated and veterinary advice sought.
There are various lab tests available to confirm if a horse is suffering from the disease, which are important, since some animals (usually up to 10%) will be carriers and not show any signs of illness.
Laboratory testing includes nasal swabs, guttural pouch washes and fluid collected from an abscess.
Most horses suffering from strangles just need good quality nursing, including rest and anti-inflammatories, followed by a guttural pouch wash at least three weeks later. Feed hay and hard feed on the floor to encourage drainage. Abscesses can be hot-packed to encourage them to burst, or your vet may lance them. The use of antibiotics to treat strangles remains controver sial and is best addressed by your own vet on a case-by-case basis. Fresh air can help affected horses, but turnout can result in grazing becoming contaminated.
Dealing with an outbreak of Strangles
The Animal Health Trust recommends strict biosecurity policies to reduce the risk of outbreaks and the spread of the disease, including quarantine, routine screening blood tests and implementing outbreak procedures following a confirmed or strongly suspected outbreak.
Unfortunately amongst some horse owners there is still a stigma about admitting their horse has strangles, which frequently hinders both quick diagnosis and effective control of the spread of the disease.
If a yard has an outbreak of Strangles, it is recommended to share the news locally as soon as possible to prevent further spreading. Although difficult to maintain on a large yard, isolation is important along with the following measures
- As the first sign of the infection may be a raised temperature, it is recommended to take the temperature of all horses on the yard morning and night.
- Change and wash clothes after coming into contact with infected horses
- Reduce the risk of further spread by regular and thorough hand washing
- Place a disinfectant foot bath outside isolation stables and at the yard entrance
- Inform all visitors of the threat, prior to arriving at the yard. This includes the farrier, dentist, feed delivery etc.
The British Horse Society Scotland and Intervet/Schering-Plough has produced further information on the guidelines for preventing and treating Strangles. Read more https://www.aht.org.uk/strangles.org/pdf/steps.pdf