Friday, 9 December 2016

All About Strangles

What is it

Strangles is a highly contagious acute disease more often seen in young horses.  However, it does affect older horses and donkeys too.   It is fairly common and can be fatal.  It is not a notifiable disease in the UK.


These vary and some horses may display more severe symptoms than others.  Some horses develop only very mild signs - but will still be infectious!

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Depression 
  • Cough 
  • Raised temperature 
  • Nasal discharge which is thick and becomes profuse 
  • Glands of head and neck may become swollen, under the jaw usually first affected 
  • Abscesses where glands rupture 
  • May be difficulty breathing

Time between infection and the first signs is usually between 3 and 14 days, the abscesses don't generally appear for another 1-2 weeks.  


Strangles is caused by a bacterium called Streptococcus equi which is found in the nasal discharge and the pus from the abscesses.  The bacteria are resistant to the environment to  a large extent which means they will survive in paddocks, on feed and water troughs, tack, clothing and hands.  Luckily it is not spread in the air though.  


Early intervention by a vet is vital.  They will take a swab to confirm. 


Quarantine.  Rest, good hygiene and infection control measures are vital to limit the spread.   In a small % of cases strangles is fatal.  Complications resulting from the disease can cause more serious problems, for example an abscess in the throat will affect the horses ability to eat and breathe.  Food should be sloppy which makes it easier to swallow and should be fed from the floor which will help the throat drain.  Abscesses can be treated with hot compresses - this will encourage the infection towards the surface and once the abscess has ruptured it can escape.  The wound must be kept clean using an antiseptic.  In some situations a vet may lance the abscesses and anti-inflammatories may be prescribed. 


Vaccination is available which should be kept up to date in the same way as Tetanus and Flu vaccinations.  Unfortunately, some horses which recover from strangles will then be carriers and can pass the disease on for months or years afterwards.  A blood test is available to identify carriers and they can then be treated. 

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Until next time!

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