Should I vaccinate my horse against Strangles?
A question I get asked all the time is whether you should vaccinate your horse against Strangles. The answer comes down to how at risk your horse is of getting Strangles, what your yard are doing to prevent Strangles and what your attitude is towards Strangles. For example can you afford the costs associated with your horse getting Strangles? Can you cope with not being able to go off the yard for a prolonged period of time if your horse gets Strangles? And how upset would you be having to nurse your horse through Strangles? Hopefully the information below will help you make a decision but if you are still unsure please call Ridings Equine Vets on 07747771182 to have a chat with one of us.
What is Strangles?
Strangles is caused by a bacterial infection with Streptococcus equi that affects the upper respiratory tract of horses, ponies and donkeys and is highly contagious.
How can my horse be infected with Strangles?
Strangles can spread by direct contact between horses or indirectly through people, pasture, feed and water buckets, horse transport and sharing stables.
Is my horse at risk of getting Strangles?
Most horses are exposed to some risk of infection but the risk can vary from low risk to very high risk depending on your individual circumstances.
Private horses kept at home – if you keep you horses on their own and they come into no contact with other horses (surrounding fields, hacking, competitions) then you have a relatively low risk of your horse getting Strangles. Be aware that people can spread Strangles so if you work with other horses or someone that comes in contact with your horses does then this is a potential source of risk.
There is no harm in vaccinating low risk horses and one advantage of vaccinating all of your own privately kept horses is you effectively create a good defence to disease.
Small- medium livery yards with a stable population of horses and a good screening protocol- If you keep your horse on a livery yard that has a low rate of new horses and any new horses that arrive are subject to a good screening protocol (3 weeks in isolation and a blood test) then you have a medium risk of strangles. Possible sources include horses going to shows/ pleasure rides/ riding camps and people coming to the yard having been working or dealing with other horses.
Vaccination of the whole yard would be the best approach although individual horses would still benefit from vaccination.
Medium- large livery yards with a high rate of new horses and no screening or isolation protocol- these are very high risk situations for introducing strangles. New horses are probably the most important factor in introducing strangles to a yard, either because they are suffering from active infection (signs can be very mild in some cases and often missed) or because they are a carrier – 10% of horses will become carriers after being infected with strangles, carrier state can last years and the horse shows no outward signs. There is also the risk from horses competing at shows and especially ones that are stabled away at competitions or rider camps.
A whole yard approach to vaccination is the best policy but if this is not possible individual horses should be vaccinated to reduce their risk of Strangles.
What are the signs of Strangles?
Signs will vary between horses and some may show all of the signs others may only show very mild signs including: loss of appetite, high temperature (above 38.5°C), depression, swollen glands around head and throat, cough, nasal discharge, abscesses. In very severe cases Strangles can affect the internal organs and may lead to death.
How effective is the Strangles vaccination?
The Strangles vaccination provides the best possible protection against Strangles and although it does not completely prevent Strangles it does markedly reduce the clinical signs your horse will have. If a horse comes into contact with Strangles 50% of vaccinated horses will show no clinical signs, others will just show very mild signs such as a mild temperature and slight cough and the resolution of disease will be much quicker than an unvaccinated horse.
Strangles vaccination should be used in combination with good management and biosecurity practices.
The vaccination is effective at preventing Strangles outbreaks on yards when the whole yard is vaccinated. Individual horses can be vaccinated to reduce their chances of getting the disease and
What is the vaccination protocol?
The primary course is two vaccinations 4 weeks apart followed by a booster every 3-6 months depending on the level of risk.
How is the Strangles vaccination administered?
The vaccination is given in the inside of the upper lip. The needle is a very fine insulin needle only 3mm long and most horses don’t even notice the vaccination.
Will my horse be ill following the vaccination?
Some horses will experience a swelling around the injection site that lasts for a few days, in rare cases horses my have a temperature for 24 hours following vaccination but this usually resolves very quickly.
Can I ride my horse after the Strangles vaccination?
Usually we advise you to rest your horse for a day or two following vaccination or just stick to light exercise.
Can my horse get Strangles from the vaccination?
No. The Strangles vaccine is a live vaccine that has been altered so that it can not cause disease.
Can my horse spread Strangles to other horses after the vaccination?
No. The vaccine is unable to cause disease within the host and therefore is unable to be spread.
Can I vaccinate my horse against Strangles if my yard has an outbreak of Strangles?
No. We do not recommend vaccinating your horse for the first time during an outbreak of Strangles on the same yard, this is because if a horse that is incubating strangles is vaccinated there is a higher chance of adverse reactions to the vaccination.
If your horse has had the primary Strangles vaccinations then we recommend a booster vaccination during an outbreak to top up their immunity.
Is it worth vaccinating my horse if I’m the only one on the yard doing it?
Although we always recommend the whole yard vaccinates against strangles, if this is not possible we still recommend vaccination for individual horses. Vaccination offers the best possible protection against disease by increasing your horses immunity, reducing the risk of getting Strangles or at least only having mild clinical signs, and by providing a quicker resolution from disease.
If you need help deciding whether vaccination is right for you please give us a call on 07747771182