Posted March 6, 2023 in Equine Blog by Timothy Ross
Equine strangles is a bacterial infection that affects horses, donkeys, and mules. The disease is caused by Streptococcus equi, which is highly-contagious and can spread rapidly through a herd.
The symptoms of equine strangles include fever, nasal discharge, coughing, difficulty swallowing, and swollen lymph nodes around the head and neck. The lymph nodes will become abscessed and rupture, releasing infectious pus into the environment. In some cases, the infection can spread to other parts of the body causing potentially serious and life-threatening issues.
Equine strangles has been around for hundreds of years and continues to be a major concern for horse owners. Despite the availability of effective equine strangles vaccines and antibiotics, equine strangles continues to be a problem in many parts of the world.
As mentioned previously, Equine strangles is highly contagious and is primarily spread through direct contact between horses. The bacterium can also be transmitted indirectly through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as feed troughs, water buckets, grooming equipment, or human clothing. The disease can be spread by asymptomatic carriers and infected horses can shed the bacteria for several weeks.
Horses that have recovered from equine strangles can develop a carrier state, in which they harbor the bacterium in their guttural pouches without showing any clinical signs of disease. These carriers can shed the bacteria intermittently, making it difficult to eliminate the disease from a herd. In addition, some horses may become chronically infected, with persistent infection in the guttural pouches, lymph nodes, or other tissues.
The symptoms of equine strangles usually develop within 3 to 14 days after exposure to the bacterium. The first signs of infection are fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. The horse may also develop a cough, nasal discharge, and difficulty breathing and swallowing. As the disease progresses, the lymph nodes around the head and neck become swollen and painful which will eventually form abscesses that can rupture and discharge pus. In severe cases, the infection can spread to the lungs, causing pneumonia, or to the brain, causing neurological signs such as ataxia and seizures.
Equine strangles can be diagnosed by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will usually perform a physical exam and collect samples of nasal discharge, lymph node fluid, or abscess material for laboratory analysis. The bacterium can be cultured from these samples and identified by its characteristic appearance and biochemical properties. A blood test can also be used to detect antibodies to the bacterium to indicate exposure or infection.
Treatment for Equine strangles depends upon the severity of the case. Antibiotics may be needed in severe cases. However, most veterinarians refrain from the use of antibiotics in mild cases as it can delay the formation of abscesses which can lengthen the course of the illness. Use of antibiotics can also prevent your horse from developing an immune response which may result in the development of an infection when the course of antibiotics has ended.
Supportive care such as fluids, rest, and soft food (soaked feed) can aid in faster recovery. When your horse begins to develop abscesses, they may need to be drained or lanced by your veterinarian. These ruptured abscesses will then have to be flushed until drainage ceases (this may take several days).
Horses should be housed in clean, well-ventilated facilities and not around horses showing signs of illness. Water buckets, grooming tools, and other equipment should be cleaned and disinfected regularly to prevent the spread. Quarantine procedures should be used for new horses entering a herd. Any horses exposed to the bacterium should be isolated until they are cleared by your veterinarian.
Vaccination is also important in preventing equine strangles. There are several different types of equine vaccines available. These vaccines stimulate the horse’s immune system to produce antibodies against the bacterium, providing protection against infection. It is important to note that vaccination does not provide 100% protection as breakthrough infections can still occur.
Early detection, prompt treatment, and quarantining of infected horses can help to prevent the spread of equine strangles. Horse owners and caretakers should be familiar with the signs of the disease and should contact a veterinarian immediately if they suspect an infection.
A: Equine strangles is a highly contagious bacterial infection that affects horses, donkeys, and mules. It is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi and can cause severe respiratory distress and other complications.
A: Equine strangles is primarily spread through direct contact between horses. The bacterium can also be transmitted indirectly through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as feed troughs, water buckets, grooming tools, lead ropes, or even human clothing.
A: The symptoms of equine strangles include fever, nasal discharge, coughing, difficulty swallowing, and swollen lymph nodes around the head and neck. The lymph nodes can become abscessed, and the abscesses can rupture, releasing infectious pus into the environment.
A: Equine strangles is diagnosed based on clinical signs and laboratory testing. A veterinarian will usually perform a physical examination and collect samples of nasal discharge, lymph node fluid, or abscess material for laboratory analysis.
A: For mild cases, veterinarians will suggest more of a supportive treatment of monitoring your horse’s eating, drinking and breathing. Anti-inflammatories may also be used. Abscesses may have to be drained, if they do not do so on their own, and then it will be necessary to flush the abscesses until they quit draining. Severe cases of strangles are usually treated with antibiotics, such as penicillin. In either case, fluids, rest, and soft food (soaked feed), can help the horse recover more quickly.
A: Preventing equine strangles is primarily a matter of good biosecurity practices, including vaccination, quarantine, and regular cleaning and disinfection of equipment and facilities. Early detection and prompt treatment of infected horses can also help to prevent the spread of the disease.
Despite the availability of effective vaccines and antibiotics, equine strangles continues to be a significant problem. Prevention, early detection, and prompt treatment of infected horses can help prevent the disease’s spread. Horse owners and caretakers should be familiar with the signs of equine strangles and should work closely with their veterinarian to develop a comprehensive prevention and treatment plan for their horses.