Understanding and Managing Strangles in Horses

For many horse owners, the word 'strangles' instantly invokes a sense of fear and anxiety. This potentially severe, contagious infection poses a significant threat to the equine community worldwide. But while the disease can indeed be devastating, it is crucial to remember that with prompt detection, professional veterinary involvement, and rigorous biosecurity measures, a full recovery is typically achievable.

What is Strangles?

Strangles, or Streptococcus equi subspecies equi, is an infection primarily affecting the upper respiratory tract of horses. The bacteria invade the lymph nodes and can lead to abscess formations. While unpleasant and potentially severe, the good news is that most horses will recover from strangles with proper care and attention.

Early Warning Signs of Strangles

Early detection is critical in managing strangles in horses. Hallmark symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen and/or abscessed lymph nodes
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Muscle swelling
  • Difficulty swallowing.

If you notice any of these signs in your horse, it is vital to call a veterinarian immediately. They can confirm the diagnosis using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and guide you on the next steps.

Strangles Treatment

Treatment for strangles mostly involves supportive care. While antibiotics can be used for severe cases, their overuse may interfere with the horse's ability to develop natural immunity. It is important to seek veterinary advice regarding any medication use. Generally, most horses experience a full recovery from strangles within three to four weeks.

Prevention of Strangles

Preventing strangles primarily involves implementing stringent biosecurity measures. Quarantine new horses arriving at a yard for a minimum of two weeks and maintain high hygiene standards. Regular cleaning and disinfection of feed buckets, brushes, tack, and other shared equipment is mandatory. It's also wise to avoid mixing horses from different yards at events or gatherings without proper health checks.

Lastly, while vaccination is available, it's not always 100% effective and shouldn't replace robust biosecurity measures.

Strangles can be a daunting prospect for any horse owner, but with awareness, vigilance, and a proactive approach, it's a manageable situation. Remember, if in doubt, always consult with a qualified equine veterinary professional to protect the welfare of your steed.

Information courtesy of Equine Network.