Last Updated on July 9, 2022
If there is an outbreak of contagious equine disease in your area, it is useful to know the symptoms of strangles in horses. This highly infectious disease spreads through herds of horses very quickly and knowing the symptoms of strangles in horses can help us to spot infected animals. Let’s find out everything you need to know about the symptoms of strangles in horses!
What Is Strangles In Horses?
Strangles is a disease of the upper respiratory tract of horses. This highly contagious disease is caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus equi subspecies equi (S. equi). When a horse has strangles, these bacteria infect the lymph nodes, most typically around the throat area. These lymph nodes become swollen and filled with pus, putting pressure on the windpipe.
In most cases of strangles, these abscesses around the lymph nodes will burst, leaking pus either through the nose or externally through the side of the throat. In severe cases of strangles, the abscesses spread to other lymph nodes, causing systemic illnesses such as septicemia.
Strangles is spread very easily between horses, either through nose-to-nose contact or through touching contaminated objects and surfaces. For this reason, if a case of strangles is suspected it is vital to immediately isolate the horse to prevent others from becoming infected.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Strangles In Horses?
Most horses start to display symptoms of strangles at around 3 to 8 days after infection. The initial symptoms of strangles include a persistent high temperature and a clear nasal discharge. The horse will often be dull and depressed, with a reduced appetite.
As the disease progresses, the horse will develop swollen lymph nodes, and the nasal discharge will progressively become cloudy and purulent. In some cases, the horse will experience difficulty breathing and swallowing. Eventually, the lymph node abscesses will burst, causing pus to drain through the skin or out through the nostrils.
If an outbreak of strangles is suspected, the quickest way to identify infected horses is to check their body temperature twice daily. Any horse that shows a raised temperature can be immediately isolated, reducing the spread of disease through the herd.
How Is Strangles In Horses Diagnosed?
Strangles in horses is normally diagnosed by obtaining a sample of the bacteria which is then analyzed in a laboratory. This is achieved by taking a swab from areas where the bacteria that cause strangles are most concentrated, such as a nasopharyngeal swab, guttural pouch wash, or discharge from a lymph node abscess.
Once in the laboratory, two different types of tests may be carried out. The swab or sample may be cultured to ‘grow’ the bacteria, which are then analyzed to identify them. Alternatively, a PCR test can be used to identify the presence of bacteria but does not differentiate between live and dead bacteria. Normally both tests are done to reach a positive diagnosis.
What Is The Best Treatment For A Horse With Strangles?
Most cases of strangles in horses resolve with rest and supportive nursing care. Pain relief is given to ease the inflammation around the throat, enabling the horse to eat and drink more comfortably.
As strangles is a bacterial infection, you might assume that antibiotics would be routinely given to treat this disease. However, it is not advisable to give a horse with strangles a course of antibiotics, for two reasons.
Firstly, 75% of cases of strangles that are not treated with antibiotics develop long-term immunity to strangles. This means that as the equine population gets older, it is less susceptible to strangles and the symptoms are milder.
The other reason for not giving antibiotics is that the bacteria are trapped within the lymph nodes, making them difficult for systemic antibiotics to reach. Antibiotics may suppress bacterial growth but are unlikely to eliminate it altogether. When the course of antibiotics ends, the bacteria may start to multiply again and can start to develop resistance to antibiotics.
If the abscesses in the lymph nodes burst externally, they will need to be cleaned and flushed to help remove purulent material. Good hygiene measures should be implemented to reduce flies and external contamination. Barrier cream on the hair surrounding the abscess can help prevent skin sores and scalding.
Summary – Symptoms Of Strangles In Horses
So, as we have learned, the symptoms of strangles in horses include a persistent high temperature and a clear nasal discharge. The horse will often be dull and depressed, with a reduced appetite. As the disease progresses, the horse will develop swollen lymph nodes, and the nasal discharge will progressively become cloudy and purulent.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the symptoms of strangles in horses! Have you ever had to deal with an outbreak of strangles in your herd of horses? Or perhaps you’ve known of a horse with strangles that had some very unusual symptoms? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
What Happens When A Horse Gets Strangles?
When a horse gets strangles it develops abscesses around the lymph nodes in the throat. These can be swollen and painful, making it difficult for the horse to eat and drink normally. This is how the disease came to be called strangles, as it causes the throat to become constricted.
How Long Does It Take For A Horse To Show Symptoms Of Strangles?
The incubation period for strangles is normally between 3 and 14 days - this is the length of time between a horse coming in contact with the bacteria and developing the symptoms of strangles. In some cases, the incubation period can be as long as 28 days.
Can A Horse Be Cured Of Strangles?
Most horses make a full recovery from strangles, and require just a period of rest and supportive nursing care. However, if complications occur, then the mortality rate of this disease increases to around 40%. Luckily only around 10% of strangles cases develop complications.
Does Strangles Go Away On Its Own?
In many cases, strangles will go away on its own, but the horse will make a faster and better recovery with supportive nursing care. Horses that have been infected with strangles generally take 3-4 weeks to make a full recovery.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE