What is Strangles?
Strangles is a highly contagious disease that affects a horse’s lymph nodes in its upper respiratory tract. While Strangles can affect horses of any age, it most commonly infects those between one and five years of age. Strangles is not usually fatal to horses, but it certainly can be if left untreated.
Once a horse is exposed to the bacteria, it will begin to show symptoms in two to six days.
The first signs of strangles are:
- High fever
- Poor appetite
- Depression or low mood and lethargy
Latter signs (within one to two weeks after the onset of illness)
of strangles are:
- Thin, watery discharge from the horse’s nostrils
- Discharge that quickly turns thick and yellow
- Upper respiratory lymph nodes become swollen (particularly near the jawbones).
What Causes Strangles?
Strangles is caused by a bacterium called streptococcus equi. The name of the disease ‘strangles’ came about due to the strangling breathing sounds made by affected horses (enlarged lymph nodes of the jawbone put strain on the vocal chords). When one horse is infected, it sheds the streptococcus equi bacteria.
This can happen during or after its own bout with the illness as around twenty percent of horses remain contagious for a month after all symptoms vanish. Direct contact between horses is the most common way the disease is spread, but it may also occur as a result of:
- Shared contaminated equipment and food or water
- Improperly cleaned buckets, stalls, bedding and tack
If you suspect that your horse has strangles, it is very important that you notify your veterinarian immediately. The sooner a positive diagnosis is reached, the quicker a horse can be treated and his health improved. An accurate diagnosis is also esential in order to separate the infected animal from other horses, as well as to thoroughly clean equipment and stables.
Help for Strangles
Nasal swabs can usually ascertain whether the horse is shedding the streptococcus equi bacteria; however three nasal swabs (over a period of one week) are required before strangles can be ruled out. Strangles can be controlled by vaccinations; however they are not a complete guarantee against the disease.
Antibiotics may be prescribed in the early stages of strangles, however a horse must be given the correct amounts and once lymph nodes have enlarged antibiotic treatment is futile. Abscesses will need to be opened (have the veterinarian lance it) so that they may drain. Treatment then consists of flushing the drainage site, keeping the area as clean as possible, and maintaining strict isolation of the ill horse to prevent spreading the infection to other horses.
There are many herbal and homeopathic remedies that can help your horse to strengthen their respiratory system. Homeopathic ingredients such as Aconitum napellus and Belladonna can address respiratory symptoms such as swelling and inflammation in the throat and jaw.
Hepar sulph.and Silicea can address health on a cellular level, helping to soothe irritated mucous membranes in the nasal passages and throat. Merc sol can help to regulate temperature, while Sulphur has been known to provide systemic support – particularly to the respiratory system, including the lungs.