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March 4, 2019


The highly contagious disease strangles regularly rears its ugly head, which is much reason for alarm among horse owners. Reason enough to take a close look at the disease and distinguish between facts and myths.
Strangles is contagious and is brought on by the Streptococcus equi bacterium, which causes the development of abscesses, mainly in the area of the throat, potentially with serious complications. The illness is most common in young stock and often strikes those animals that suffer from a diminished resistance. In some cases the disease can even be fatal.
At the onset of strangles the horse is ill, runs a fever and has some white nasal discharge. After a few days this nasal discharge becomes thicker and more yellowy, more purulent. The horse doesn’t eat much or even rejects food altogether. This is partly due to the pain in the throat because the lymph nodes in the throat and behind the jaw have become infected and swollen and are therefore sore. In the lymph nodes abscesses are formed that can become very big. When these abscesses have matured they can rupture, either outwards through the skin or possibly, inwards.
Sometimes an abscess leads to serious shortness of breath and a snoring sound. Squeezing of the windpipe brings on the risk of suffocation. In those cases the vet can temporarily insert a tube into the windpipe. After rupturing the horse usually feels a lot better, the pressure is off and problems with breathing and swallowing are strongly reduced.

Spreading of the disease
Strangles can be transmitted by direct contact between horses or via the clothing of their carers. Contamination can also take place via the air or in the field. The first symptoms usually become manifest one week following infection. The use of antibiotics is possible in the early stages of the disease, but once the abscesses have started to develop this is highly undesirable. Then the only option is to leave the abscesses to mature. Most horses recover after a few weeks. One or two percent of affected horses become seriously ill and can possibly even die.

As produced in the KFPS newsletter March 2019