Understanding Strangles: A Common Health Threat to Horses

In the world of equine health, strangles is a disease that you'll likely hear of from time to time. Strangles is an equine disease caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi subspecies equi. It's highly contagious, potentially severe, and unfortunately quite common amongst horses worldwide. But what is this infection, and how can horse owners effectively manage and prevent it?

What is Strangles?

Strangles is an infection that primarily affects the lymph nodes of horses. It's aptly named, as the resulting swelling of the lymph nodes in the upper respiratory tract can give the appearance of strangulation. But it isn't just the disturbing symptoms that make strangles a concern for horse owners. It's also highly contagious, often spreading rapidly within barns and horse gatherings.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of Strangles may vary among horses, but they generally include fever, nasal discharge, decreased appetite, enlarged and/or abscessed lymph nodes, and difficulty swallowing. Despite these apparent symptoms, some infected horses may not show signs and yet can still spread the bacteria. In severe cases, the disease can even lead to complications such as pneumonia, blood poisoning, or purpura haemorrhagica, a condition characterized by edema and bleeding into body tissues.

How is it Diagnosed and Treated?


Strangles is usually diagnosed via a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which can detect the DNA of the bacterium. This test can be performed using swabs taken from the nose or pus from abscesses. However, given that the disease can be spread even by asymptomatic carriers, regular testing and monitoring of herds are highly recommended, especially in places where horses are frequently gathered.


The basic treatment for strangles usually involves letting the disease run its course while ensuring the affected horse is comfortable. In some cases, veterinarians might recommend using antibiotics, especially if the infected horse is deteriorating rapidly or if serious complications occur. Overuse of antibiotics should be avoided as it could inhibit the horse's immune response to the bacteria, thus preventing the horse from effectively fighting off the infection.

Prevention is the Best Strategy

The best line of defense against strangles is prevention. This usually involves practicing excellent biosecurity. Quarantining new arrivals, ensuring shared equipment is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and isolating infected horses can all massively decrease the risk of an outbreak.

The use of vaccines can also be effective, although they are not always recommended due to varying levels of protection. As such, seeking professional advice from your vet should always be the first step when considering preventative measures.

Keep Calm and Gallop On

So yes, strangles can seem terrifying. But armed with knowledge and backed by good management and preventative measures, you as a horse owner can significantly lower the risks it poses to your equine friends.

Now, Can Anyone Recommend a Good Hay Dealer?

Because after all that discussion about strangles, we could all use a nice, calming nibble, couldn't we?

Credit: Adapted from "Strangles"Website: https://thehorse.com/