Strangles is a respiratory illness that is contagious for horses. The bacteria that causes it is streptococcus equi and the common name, strangles, comes from the sound the horse makes when it has contracted it: just as though he was about to stop breathing.
Although this is not something that most of us should be scared of – after all, horses don’t usually die from this – we still should be on the lookout to treat it effectively and reduce any discomfort for the horse, especially if you have more than one equine. Unfortunate is the one who has to deal with a barn full of wheezing beasts!
The disease is spread by equines coming into contact with one another or through equipment that has not been cleaned properly. The horses are usually most contagious in the final part of the illness, so try to keep them apart at that point in time and for a short period afterwards (the disease can still spread for an entire month after it fades away) if one of yours should be unlucky to get it.
Look out for abscesses. Horses can end up with a few in the jawbones and these will rupture and empty themselves. It takes about one to two weeks to show up after they have already contracted strangles. It is important to treat this as soon as possible because it can lead to pneumonia, and this is what could cause death, along with the possible spread of the abscesses to other parts of the body.
Treatment varies depending on which stage they are at. First, if you have a new horse, try to keep it away from the others for a while, until you can be sure that it doesn’t have the disease. Up to six weeks could be necessary. If not, all your horses may become ill quickly.
Vaccination is recommended, but not 100% guaranteed. It helps quite a bit, and even if they still contract the illness, it will generally affect them less.
As usual, vets are great, so try to contact yours as soon as you can to help control the illness before it sets in too much, or before it spreads to other horses. Antibiotics may be prescribed, and the sooner you start, the less chances the horse has of getting abscesses. The affected ones still need to be separated from the rest even if they have been vaccinated or are on antibiotics.
However, if abscesses start showing up, the only thing you can do is empty them and keep the horse isolated. At this point, the vaccine will only make things worse and the antibiotics may also make the disease last longer.
If you attended a show or competition and you prefer preventing instead of having to treat the illness, some antibiotics won’t hurt. Ask your vet.
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