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30th April 2004



Equine strangles is the most important bacterial disease of members of the horse family (horses, donkeys, mules and zebras).  It occurs worldwide, at any time of the year, is highly contagious, and has been recognized for over 7 centuries.  It has been difficult over the years to explain the ability of the disease to resist attempts at control and eradication.  In recent years, because of a number of careful scientific observations on horses with the disease and research on the organism which causes it, our understanding of the disease has increased prodigiously.  It is this relatively new information that has dramatically changed many previous ideas on its prevention and control.

1. What is the cause of strangles?

Strangles is a bacterial infection that affects the respiratory tract of horses.  The infection can spread to other areas of the horse resulting in complications.  This disease is very contagious, especially in young horses.

2. How can my horse get strangles?

The bacteria is spread by direct contact with infected horses or from horse handlers, buckets, feed, water troughs and tack that has been contaminated with nasal discharges from infected horses.  Some horses become carriers of the infection and intermittently shed the bacteria.

3. My horse has a cold – could this be strangles?

The first signs of a horse with strangles is often an increased temperature (39.5-41˚C), followed by a discharge from the nose that is clear but quickly becomes thick and yellow. The horse becomes depressed and does not eat.  In some strangles cases, horses develop  swellings in the throat and lower jaw region.  Therefore horses with a cold could be infected with the strangles bacteria.

4. My horse has swollen glands around the throat and is having trouble breathing,
could this be strangles and what should I do?

Swollen glands around the throat region could be caused by viral or other bacterial infections besides strangles.  Foreign bodies such as grass seeds may result in swellings in this area.  A horse that is having trouble breathing should be kept very quiet with minimal stress and isolated from other horses.  The horse should not be given any food or water until the vet assesses the case.  Seek veterinary advice as soon  as possible.

5. Can my horse become infected with strangles a second time?

Yes, 25 percent of infected horses do not develop good immunity and can become reinfected within 6 to 12 months.  The other 75 percent do develop strong immunity, however this is not life-long.

6. Can I vaccinate against this disease?

Yes, two types of vaccines are available to control strangles.  They are injectable vaccines called Equivac™ S and Equivac™ 2 in 1 (combined tetanus and strangles vaccine in one injection) or an instranasal vaccine called Pinnacle™ I.N.  These vaccines are used as part of a  control program.  Other management practices need to be carried out  to minimize the risk of strangles in any horse group.

Extracts from Research Publication Commissioned by The New Zealand Equine Research Foundation.

Those interested is assisting should contact:-
D M Jewell, Secretary
New Zealand Equine Research Foundation
PO Box 52, Palmerston North
Phone:  +64 6356 4940   Fax:  +64 6354 2885
E-mail:  nzerf@xtra.co.nz