Strangles in horses

Strangles in horses: signs, treatments and prevention

Strangles is a nasty infection that can spread quickly from horse to horse, often causing serious problems. Let’s take a closer look at what Strangles is, how to identify it and how to keep your horses safe and healthy.

What is Strangles?

Strangles refers to a bacterial infection of the horse’s respiratory system. The infection causes swelling of the lymph nodes of the upper respiratory tract, which obstructs the breathing. This is where the term ‘Strangles’ comes from. The lymph nodes swell on the side of the horse’s throat and produce discharge.

Strangles is highly contagious and can spread easily from horse to horse, especially if they live within close proximity to one another. It can spread directly and indirectly, meaning that horses don’t necessarily have to come into contact for the infection to spread: a horse could contract Strangles from using the same equipment or drinking from the same trough as an infected horse.

Strangles symptoms

If a horse is infected with Strangles, they may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Abscesses in or around their throat, often producing discharge
  • A high temperature and general depression or restlessness
  • Reluctance to eat (the swelling in the throat obstructs swallowing as well as breathing)
  • Nasal discharge
  • A frequent cough
  • Abscesses/lymph nodes elsewhere on the body (this is known as Bastard Strangles and is a rare condition)

Clinical signs of Strangles will typically emerge between 3 days and 2 weeks after infection, so it’s important to contact your vet as soon as you spot them.

Did you know?

After draining out of an abscess, the Strangles bacteria can live a long time in the horses’ environment. They can survive in water troughs for up to 4 weeks!

Treating strangles in horses

Most effective treatments for Strangles take the form of supportive care. This includes:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Rupturing large abscesses by applying heat (encouraging the bacteria to leave the body)
  • Antiseptic treatments for drained abscesses to encourage healing

Antibiotics are not always the best treatment, but vets may prescribe this based on the severity of the horse’s condition.

Decontamination

Your chances of keeping your horses safe from Strangles will be much greater if you are vigilant and check their body temperatures regularly.

If one horse is diagnosed with Strangles, it’s important to act quickly and make sure the others stay free of infection. Isolate the infected horse as best you can and use separate equipment when feeding or handling them.

Be sure to sterilise anything that the infected horse has come into contact with – both directly and indirectly. This could be equipment such as harnesses, or wheelbarrows/spades used to dispose of their waste. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best cleaning products.

Prevention

Along with maintaining a strict hygiene routine for your stables and the relevant equipment, it’s also a good idea to isolate any new horses for at least 2 weeks before they come into contact with the others. During this period of quarantine, be sure to use separate equipment for the new horse and to monitor them closely. If, after the initial 2-week period, they are in full health, it’s time to introduce them to the others!

Need more info?

For more information on Strangles or for further queries about the welfare of your horses, have a chat with your local equine vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.