What is strangles, and what causes this equine disease?

It is a commonly diagnosed infectious disease that can infect all horses. It’s highly contagious and caused by the bacteria called streptococcus eqi.

If this equine disease breaks out on a yard, it will have to be shut down as this is the only way to stop the disease spreading.

And that’s why it remains a feared disease, due to its debilitating effects.

When new horses are introduced to a yard one could be a carrier.

The horse will appear healthy and bring the disease on to the yard.

A carrier horse would have contracted the disease at some stage in his life and, but not all the bacteria would have been killed off

Only a vet would be able to determine if the horse is a carrier.

So a new horse arrives on the yard. Of course, you don’t know it has a disease or is a carrier or anything else for that matter.

It looks healthy enough! Everyone wants to see the new horse and make a fuss of him.

He pokes his head over the stable door and say’s hello to the horse next door.

They have a little sniff of each other and then he introduces himself to his other neighbour.

Ones a mare and the other a gelding. Mares and geldings are split into different herds.

Here’s food for thought – strangles can spread by handling an infected horse then handling others.

An infected horse can pass it on to others by contact. Nasal discharge contaminates equipment such as feed buckets, water buckets, grooming brushes, tack and not forgetting water troughs that can be found in fields as bacteria can survive for long periods.

What are the signs of strangles?

My horse had been off his food for a couple of days, not at all himself.

When I arrived his head was low to the ground and snot was dripping from his nostrils.

My first thought was flue and I immediately phoned my vet. Within the hour my vet had arrived and confirmed it was an infectious disease, strangles.

This was something I had heard about, but had no experience of.

My vet explained the clinical signs - nasal discharge, fever, poor appetite, depression and dullness along with development of a cough.

Swelling of the lymph nodes (glands) under the jaw or on the neck as usually seen one week after the clinical signs.

The lymph nodes will swell and often burst discharging thick yellow puss, caused by the abscesses.

Some glands swell so much they restrict the airway, hence the name.

In some horses the infection can spread causing abscesses in the body organs as well as the lymph nodes. 

This condition is known as “bastard-strangles in horses” and is potentially fatal.

These clinical signs are usually seen between 3 to 14 days after the horse has been in contact with the infection.

I asked the vet how this can be. I hadn’t taken my horse off the yard!

He asked me if any other horses have been off the yard or if any new horses had arrived at the yard.

Two new horses arrived a couple of days ago, but I explained they both looked fit and healthy.

He then went on to explain that one or both of them could be carriers, despite the fact that they looked fine, they could still carry the bacteria which can survive for more than five years.

So basically, a horse can pass on the bacteria before showing any clinical signs.

Click here to find out how the infection spreads and how to prevent an outbreak

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