Strangles is an extremely contagious illness that affects the horse’s upper respiratory tract. It is the most common infectious disease in the UK and worldwide. Strangles is caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus equi, not a virus.

Strangles outbreaks can involve many or even all horses becoming ill on yards where they live together. Any horse can get strangles, whatever their age, breed, health status or value.

 

What are the signs?

It can take up to 21 days for a newly infected horse to show signs of illness.

The earliest signs of strangles are usually fever (a resting temperature above 38.5oc) and being off-colour. As the disease progresses it can cause:

  • Thick nasal discharge
  • Swollen lymph nodes around the horse's head
  • Abscesses on lymph nodes
  • Trouble swallowing and loss of appetite
  • Difficulty breathing (hence the name 'strangles')
  • A cough
  • Dullness and depression associated with fever

Some horses only show mild signs of disease, such as slight nasal discharge or briefly raised temperature, but these individuals can still pass infection on, and the next horse may become much sicker.

 

How does strangles spread?

Strangles is NOT an airborne disease, though a horse can cough or snort infected material several feet. Strangles bacteria spread most easily through direct contact between horse, but can also be passed on indirectly via surfaces, equipment, water and people’s hands and clothing.

Strangles is especially challenging because some horses become strangles carriers after being infected. This means they still have strangles bacteria hidden in their respiratory system, but are otherwise perfectly healthy. Carriers can shed bacteria intermittently, able to infect other horses without anyone knowing where the disease has come from.

It is vital horses are checked as they recover from strangles so treatment can be used to stop them becoming carriers if necessary.

 

How serious is strangles?

Many horses will be very ill while they are infected, but start to feel better after 2-3 weeks. However, strangles is sadly fatal in up to 10% of cases.

Strangles also has a serious wider impact. Strict quarantine measures are needed to help prevent the spread of disease between horses and yards. Businesses such as riding schools or trekking centres can suffer serious loss of income, and owners cannot take their horses off-site.

Outbreaks are often expensive, exhausting and emotional to deal with, and strangles is a potentially fatal disease for infected horses, so prevention is always better than cure.

 

Taking action

There are lots of good biosecurity practices, often simple, practical steps, that will help to protect horses from the threat of strangles. Visiting our Strangles Hub today is a great place to start!

Redwings launched the Stamp Out Strangles campaign to support owners, yard managers and equestrian professionals stay a step ahead of the disease. By exploring the Hub you will find out more about: