Highly infectious and feared by most horse owners, strangles can be avoided if the right steps are taken. Researcher Andrew Waller, from the Animal Health Trust, explains
Strangles is the most commonly diagnosed infectious disease of horses in the world and one of the most feared in the UK – just hearing about a diagnosis at a local yard can send horse owners into panic. It’s estimated that more than 600 outbreaks of strangles occur in the UK each year, so what can you do to reduce the risk to your horse?
What is strangles?
Strangles is a contagious respiratory disease that’s caused by the bacteria Streptococcus equi. The bacteria is passed from one horse to another via the nose or mouth through direct contact with another horse or contact with infected items such as shared water and feed, clothing, yard equipment and tack.
The bacteria can enter your horse’s lymph nodes when he breathes in or drinks. These then swell and develop abscesses, which can rupture, shedding pus and bacteria into the environment. Just one drop of pus from an infected horse contains as many as two million bacteria, making strangles highly infectious.
Any horse can contract strangles, regardless of age, breed or type. However, horses with weaker immune systems, such as the young or elderly, are often more susceptible, as they’re less able to fight off the infection.
Signs of strangles
Signs your horse may have strangles include…
- a raised temperature of more than 39°C
- depression and lethargy
- a cough
- loss of appetite
- thick nasal discharge
- an abscess under his jaw or in his throat region
Did you know? Occasionally, strangles abscesses can develop in other areas of the body. This is known as bastard strangles and is much more serious than classic strangles.
Affected horses must be nursed in isolation and are usually given anti-inflammatory medication. While it’s important to keep them away from the rest of the yard, ideally they should be able to see other horses without sharing their air space. Use clearly marked, dedicated equipment, such as yard tools and feed buckets, and disinfect them regularly to minimise the opportunity for Streptococcus equi to survive in the environment.
Find out more about this highly infectious disease and the right steps to take, in September Horse&Rider, on sale 26 July.