Ask the Vet: Strangles

Q: “How do you prevent a gelding from getting Strangles a second time?” ~ Kriste K.

A: This is a great question.

Strangles is a very common respiratory disease of horses. Strangles is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus equi and is extremely contagious. Strangles can rapidly spread from one horse to another from nasal discharge and can easily be carried on hands, clothing or equipment. Horses with Strangles usually develop high fevers, swollen lymph nodes and nasal discharge. In severe cases lymph nodes in the back of the throat may swell so much that breathing may become labored (hence the name Strangles). After a horse has had Strangles they develop antibodies to the bacteria which protects them from getting the disease for several years.  In most horses this protection last about five years, however the level and length of protection that horses develop varies from horse to horse. There are several steps that are crucial to preventing the spread of Strangles.
1.) Ideally isolate all new horses coming onto a property for 3 weeks
2.) Isolate any horses with Strangles from the rest of the herd.  Even after symptoms resolve horses can continue to shed and spread the bacteria for several weeks to months.  Therefore, it is important to confirm that they are no longer shedding with laboratory tests prior to reintroducing them to the herd. 
3.) Disinfect!!!! Everything that comes in contact with a Strangles horse is a potential source of infection to other horses.  This includes your hands, clothing, shoes, tack, buckets, blankets… get the picture.  When handling horses with Strangles I always wear rubber gloves, disposable plastic gowns and shoe covers.  In addition, all equipment that comes in contact with the horses from stethoscopes to muck buckets gets disinfected.  In Strangles outbreaks bleach is your best friend. 

There is also an available vaccination for  Strangles but unfortunately its effectiveness is questionable.  Many veterinarians including myself do not routinely recommend the vaccination because it only protects horses for a very short period of time and it has a higher incidence of side effects than most vaccinations. For these reasons it is important to speak with your veterinarian to determine if the Strangles vaccination is appropriate for your horse.  For the most in depth information of Strangles, its symptoms, treatment, prevention and possible complications associated with the disease I recommend looking at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Consensus Statement on Strangles.  This is a composition of research and options compiled by experts in the field with years of clinical and research experience. 

Dr. Wilson is a native of Dripping Springs, Texas. She attended Texas A&M for her undergraduate studies in Biomedical Science and obtained her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in the Spring of 2010. She has particular interests in lameness, internal medicine and surgery. Dr. Wilson joined Austin Equine as our first veterinary intern. She is member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Wilson is thrilled to be living in the Austin area. Away from work, she is an avid rider and owns Malcolm, a twenty-one year old Thoroughbred.

Photo credit, Agwest Veterinary Group, Ltd., University of Kentucky Ag, Equisearch. If you have a question you would like to ASK A VET, please email with the subject: ‘ask a vet,’ or simply leave a private message with the Facebook page.

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