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Strangles 

Mark Wallace DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM
Reidsville Veterinary Hospital
Reidsville, NC

Strangles is a bacterial disease of horses that has been recognized as early as the 1700's.  It continues to be a troublesome issue for horses and their owners and has been identified worldwide.  It is a common and treatable condition that is routinely seen throughout North Carolina.  Strangles can affect horses of any age, but the very young and very old tend to be the most susceptible.  Outbreaks of this contagious disease account for lost training and performance time, missed breeding dates, veterinary treatment and cumbersome control measures.

Strangles is the name given to an infection caused by a bacterial organism, Streptococcus equi.  This respiratory infection often results in nasal discharge, fever, and swelling of the lymph nodes around the head and neck. In the most severe cases, swelling of the lymph nodes can result in abnormal upper respiratory noise, hence the name strangles.  Fortunately, most case of strangles do not become this severe.  Many affected horses will simply be lethargic, off feed, and exhibit malaise. Swollen lymph nodes may initially appear firm and painful, progressing to rupture with draining of pus. If you suspect that your horse may have strangles, you should promptly isolate the horse from other horses and call your veterinarian. 

Treatment of strangles varies based on the symptoms and severity of each individual case.  In many cases, a horse with strangles needs time and rest to let the disease run its course.  To encourage external rupture of swollen lymph nodes, hot packs and drawing salve can be applied to the affected areas.  However, in some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatories and anti-biotics.  It is important to consult your veterinarian before starting on any course of treatment.

Strangles is a highly contagious bacterial disease that is transmitted thru direct contact with nasal secretions or pus from other infected horses.  Transfer from horse to horse usually involves direct face-to-face contact or exposure to contaminated feed buckets, water troughs, hands, grooming tools or trailers.  Control of strangles begins with isolation of newly arrived horses and any horses showing symptoms of strangles should be isolated immediately.  Rectal temperatures of suspect horses should be monitored twice daily for signs of fever.  Vaccination against this disease is important for horses at risk, such horses that travel away from their farm frequently, have contact with strange horses, or live in a high horse traffic environment.  Vaccination has been shown to reduce the likelihood of infection and the severity of symptoms.  Consult with your veterinarian concerning appropriate isolation times.

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