Strangles Awareness

Strangles awareness week has just passed and following on from this we thought it would be a good idea just to give a little refresher on Strangles!

Snotty nose- one of our clinical signs!

What is strangles?

  • Strangles is caused by Streptococcus equi subspecies equi- a highly contagious bacterial infection
  • It is classed as a primarily upper respiratory tract infection

How does it spread?

  • Strangles is spread through infectious nasal discharge or contact with nasal discharge
  • This means equipment, clothing, bedding and water can all transmit the bacteria if contaminated with the bacteria!
  • Some horses can carry the infection silently and shed the bacteria intermittently- these are known as carriers and require guttural pouch endoscopy to identify and treat

What are the clinical signs?

  • Dullness or depression
  • High temperature
  • Nasal discharge- this can be thick or serous
  • Swelling of lymph nodes around the head and throat
  • In some adult horses clinical signs can be VERY mild so testing can be required for a definitive diagnosis


  • Diagnosis can be made on nasal swabs if there is discharge present
  • Guttural pouch washing provides a more accurate diagnosis if there are mild/minimal symptoms or a negative nasal swab despite a high suspicion of strangles
  • Blood tests can show exposure to the bacteria and increase in antibody titres after re-testing or a high titre result can indicate early infection which would require further testing


  • Generally treatment is symptomatic. We do not normally prescribe antibiotics for this condition as this has been associated with the development of complications
  • Your horse may be prescribed a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as phenylbutazone (bute) if it is indicated after an examination


  • Quarantining new horses or ponies for at least 14 days and ideally 21 will help allow for any symptoms of strangles to show before mixing with other animals
  • Blood tests for strangles exposure prior to movement- this helps reduce the risk of a new horse bringing active strangles to the yard
  • Using your own equipment (e.g. water buckets, haynets etc) when out at competitions and avoiding nose to nose contact with other horses
  • Encourage use of a separate grooming kit for each horse and for handlers to wash hands between horses
  • Have a policy on what to do if you suspect there is a case of strangles- please ask us if in doubt!
  • A new intramuscular vaccination is available for use to assist in the prevention of strangles- the primary course starts with 2 injections 4 weeks apart and followed by boosters every 3-6 months

What to do if you think a horse has strangles?

  • Get some PPE on! This can be waterproofs or a boiler suit to prevent contamination on your clothes. Wear gloves and remember to still wash your hands after you remove them
  • Isolate the horse immediately away from the others
  • Disinfect the stable, grooming kit, mucking out kit and tack which may have been used on the horse
  • Notify your vet! We will then advise on a visit or testing as required
  • Isolate any horses which have been in close contact separately- those nose to nose or in the same field for example
  • Monitor all horses temperatures- this is often the first sign of infection
  • Handle or feed those who have not been in contact with the infected horse first, then those in contact, then the infected horse to reduce the risk of spreading the bacteria
  • Shut down the yard! No horse on or off. Put foot dips and hand washing facilities at the entrance/exit

Follow up

  • 6 weeks after resolution of clinical signs of the last infected horse all horses who were confirmed to be infected are guttural pouch washed- this is to identify any new carriers and confirm they have cleared the infection
  • Other horses on the yard can be blood tested- this will identify if they have been exposed and all those with a high titre will require guttural pouch washing also
  • Both groups may require follow up treatment depending on results

Take homes.....

  1. Strangles is HIGHLY infectious
  2. Not all horses present the same
  3. Isolation of new arrivals can help prevent the spread
  4. Quarantine of suspected cases as quickly as possible can help reduce the spread
  5. Strangles is hard to control once it is on your yard and it gets very expensive very quickly to treat an outbreak- the best treatment is prevention!!!

If you have any concerns your horse may have strangles or would like some advice please remember to speak to your vet - we can be contacted on 07747 717474, please note we can only give opinions on horses in our area who are registered clients. Have a lovely weekend! Alex