Strangles is also known as Distemper and Barn Fever but is properly known as Streptococcus equi. It is a highly contagious bacterial disease mostly seen in young horses especially those in contact with a large number of others.
Symptoms are most visibly a thick constant discharge from the nostrils coupled with an enlarging of the lymph nodes below the jaw and an audible “rasping” noise as abscesses in the throat restrict the free passage of air. It is this latter symptom that gives rise to its common name. It does cause a lot of stress and pain to infected horses and can be fatal.
Is it preventable?
Yes. A vaccination is available that should be given to broodmares 3-6 weeks prior to foaling. In addition, foals should be vaccinated at 2-3 months of age and again at 6 months. Adult horses (other than broodmares) don’t require vaccination as this disease is normally restricted to younger horses, but if your horse is in contact with a known Strangles case you should seek your vets advice as to whether your horse should be vaccinated. Strict quarantine (including washdown of humans and vehicles) should be exercised in a confirmed case.
How to treat Strangles?
If you have a horse or pony displaying the symptoms above, isolate it IMMEDIATELY and summon your vet. Your vet will perform a nasal swab to confirm the presence of the Streptococcus equi bacteria. Actual treatment is fairly straightforward – a fit and healthy horse’s immune system can usually fight off the bacteria without help so most vets will recommend that you monitor your horse carefully. Antibiotics can be used but are generally not recommended as they can kill off the useful bacteria, which are used to fight off the Streptococcus. It may be necessary for the vet to lance and drain infected and swollen exterior lymph nodes, but usually the horse is left alone but made as comfortable as possible, making sure plenty of water and feed is available.