What everyone should know about Strangles!
Strangles (Streptococcus Equi) is a highly contagious bacterial upper respiratory disease that is primarily spread by direct contact with infected horses or carriers. Young horses are at greatest risk, but strangles can affect horses of any age. Clinical signs can include fever, depression, loss of appetite, nasal discharge and swollen lymph nodes. While the strangles vaccine does not fully protect against the infection, it does lessen the incidence and severity of the disease.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who should be vaccinated?
Any horse who travels to shows, training clinics, trail rides and any horse who lives in a show or training barn where horses are coming and going to shows and clinics, etc.
How often should horses be vaccinated for Strangles?
Initial vaccination needs to be followed with a booster 3-4 weeks later. Thereafter; vaccination is done annually, preferably before the time period of highest potential exposure. For most horses in our area spring and summer represent the time of highest potential risk of exposure with the onset of the show season and trail riding.
How long is an infected horse contagious?
Infected horses can spread the disease for up to 4 weeks after complete recovery. Asymptomatic long-term carriers have been identified that do not show any clinical signs but can spread the disease.
How long do horses with, or exposed to, strangles need to quarantined?
At least 4 weeks after the disappearance of ALL clinical signs.
If a horse has previously had strangles, can it get it again?
Yes. Horses that have recovered from the strangles infection should have a good natural immunity against re-infection for months and possibly years, but it is not true that immunity will last a lifetime.
If a horse has previously had strangles, does it still need to be vaccinated against the disease?
Yes. As with any bacteria or virus, different strains or mutations exist, so it is in the horse’s best interest to continue annual vaccination after the horse is completely recovered.
How is strangles treated?
Most cases are treated with supportive care such as immune stimulants, vitamin supplements, medications to keep fevers under control, hot packing swollen lymph nodes and flushing them once they have ruptured.
Should antibiotics be used?
Antibiotic use is reserved for severe cases and only if prescribed by the veterinarian. Indiscriminant or inappropriate use of antibiotics can actually promote complications such as bastard or atypical strangles which is when lymph node abscesses occur in other areas of the body such as the chest, abdomen or brain.
What is the best way to control the spread of strangles?
Prevention is always best. Quarantine any new horses on the property for a period of no less than 2 weeks. While there is never a guarantee, the quarantine area, would ideally be outside, and a minimum of 20 feet away from all other horses on the property with no shared fence lines, feeders or water tanks. The quarantine area should never be inside the same building as the healthy horses.
Once strangles is suspected or diagnosed, minimize the mingling and movement between exposed and non-exposed horses. It is particularly important to protect young and pregnant mares.
If you are treating a horse with strangles, be sure that you do not inadvertently spread the disease. Do not allow the sharing of feed and water buckets between infected and non-infected horses. Keep separate manure forks, buckets and grooming tools. Caring for the infected horse should be the last thing you do before leaving the barn, so as not to transmit the diseases back to the healthy horses in the herd. Frequent hand washing will also help to lessen the chances of spreading the disease.
Should you find yourself in a situation where your horse has been diagnosed with or exposed to strangles, please amend your plans with regards to boarding, showing, training, clinics sales, etc. until all horses on the premises are symptom free for 4 weeks to avoid exposing other horses.Honest communication with full disclosure and limiting the movement of sick, recovering or exposed horses will help prevent needless spread of contagious diseases.