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With reports of Strangles outbreaks becoming increasingly prevalent across the UK, horse enthusiasts of all kinds will want to be aware of the dangers posed by the equine disease. This highly contagious disease can affect horses of all ages and can, unfortunately, be fatal - while there is no cure, early diagnosis and treatment are critical.
Strangles, also known as equine distemper, is an extremely contagious equine disease caused by the bacteria called Streptococcus Equi. The disease is so contagious that up to 100% of horses with no immunity to the disease will become infected if they come into contact with it.
Strangles affects the lymph nodes, primarily in the throat area, hence the name "Strangles." Symptoms of strangles include nasal discharge, fever, and swollen lymph nodes (also known as "glands"), which can be located under a horse's jaw or above the shoulder blades. The swollen glands impede a horse's ability to breathe and eat, leading to extreme discomfort and potentially even death.
If left untreated for too long, the lymph nodes may burst and release pus and other particles into their bloodstream - resulting in further infections and health complications. As a result of its contagiousness, it is often recommended that horses suspected of strangles should be isolated from other horses during treatment in order to prevent the further spread of the disease.
Strangles is spread through both horse-to-horse contact through nasal secretions and infected equipment and pastures. This bacteria is picked up from stables, field shelters, paddocks, water tanks, yard equipment, transport and people’s hands, boots and clothes. Even insects contaminated with nasal discharge can infect other horses in close proximity. Humans are rarely affected by strangles, however, it is essential to take proper precautions to prevent the spreading of the virus.
If you suspect your horse has Strangles, contact your vet right away for a diagnosis and treatment plan. Treatment usually involves antibiotics and supportive care such as fluids and anti-inflammatory medications.
If an abscess has developed, it will likely need to be drained as well before healing can occur; this procedure should only be performed by a qualified veterinarian as it carries a risk of complications if not done correctly. The vet may also recommend isolation until the horse has fully recovered from the infection; this helps minimise the risk that other animals on your property will become infected as well.
The best way to prevent an Equine Strangles outbreak is through proper quarantine procedures for new horses coming onto a property. All new horses should be isolated from other horses for at least 14 days before being allowed to mingle with other animals on the farm. During this time, all animals must be monitored closely for any signs of illness.
Additionally, British Equestrian Piggy March, states all horse owners should take their horse’s resting temperature every day to identify when a spike in temperature occurs - further preventing an outbreak.
Any animal showing signs of illness should be quarantined immediately and given veterinary treatment as needed. It’s also important to practice good hygiene practices when dealing with sick horses—this includes washing hands regularly and wearing protective clothing when handling affected animals. Vaccines are also available that can help protect against strangles outbreaks in some cases.
The prevention of Strangles is also crucial to livery yards and their owners as well, with Cheryl Johns sharing ‘The Real Cost of Strangles’ - instructing equine business owners to be especially strict with procedures preventing Strangles.
Taking steps to prevent strangles outbreaks in your horses is essential for protecting their health and wellbeing. Make sure you understand what signs and symptoms to look out for so you can take swift action if necessary; keep up with good biosecurity practices such as regular hand washing; consider vaccinating your horses; monitor all new arrivals carefully; isolate any ill animals from healthy ones; and contact your vet promptly if you suspect your horse may have contracted this infection.
Additionally, Strangles Awareness Week is the first week of May - show your support this Spring with the hashtag #SpeakOutOnStrangles, to raise awareness and lessen the stigma around this equine disease.
Have you ever had an experience with Equine Strangles? Let us know your thoughts and any advice you would like to share in the comments below.