12 Things You Should Do If Your Horse Gets Strangles

12 Things You Should Do If Your Horse Gets Strangles

12 Steps For Managing Strangles At Your Barn

by Robin Knight DVM, DACVIM and Idaho Equine Hospital


This is the fifth in a series of articles about Strangles. These posts were originally published on the Idaho Equine Hospital’s Facebook.

We here at The Sale Horse wanted to share everything we learned about this common but misunderstood disease, so we’ve re-published them with permission from Dr. Knight.

Read Pt. 1: What Is Strangles? 

Read Pt. 2: What is the Guttural Pouch?

Read Pt. 3: Strangles Carriers

Read Pt 4: 10 Ways to Prevent Strangles

Let’s make a plan.

Imagine this: One morning, you head out to feed your horses. You notice that your gelding is acting dumpy and has a snotty nose. You bring him in from the field, take his temperature, and see that he has a fever of 103.5…now what?

1: Get your sick horse away from the other horses

If you own horses or have a boarding stable, you need to have a spot where you can quarantine a sick horse.

A bit of prior planning for isolation will make your life much easier. Setting up panels or an electric fence once you already have a sick horse is never any fun.

How elaborate your isolation set up is will depend greatly on the size and nature of your farm or facility. You should work with your vet to establish a reasonable isolation plan before an emergency arises.

2: Find out if it’s really Strangles.

Work with your vet to get an accurate diagnosis of your sick horse.

Related: Learn how your vet can test for Strangles.

Why is testing important?

The clinical signs of many respiratory diseases can look very similar to Strangles. Advanced tests, called PCR panels, allow vets to tell the difference between many respiratory diseases and Strangles. However, you won’t be able to make these distinctions from home.

Knowing what disease you are dealing with will help you and your vet make a plan for appropriate isolation, biosecurity, vaccination, and treatment.

It’s also important to remember that different diseases will be easier to pick up at different stages of infection.

In short: even if your horse has Strangles, his snot won’t have any bacteria in it until the lymph nodes start rupturing. But, because it’s possible he could have something other than Strangles, you should still get him tested right away!

Respiratory viruses, including EHV 1 and EHV 4, are more likely to be present in nasal secretions early in the course of the disease. This means that prompt collection of samples is important.

However, due to the behavior of the Strep. equi organism, sometimes testing early will result in negative results for Strangles even though the horse is actually infected.

The bacteria does not colonize the surfaces of the respiratory tract. Instead, it invades the lymph nodes within 3 hours of infection. This makes it undetectable by washes or swabs until the lymph nodes actually rupture and drain, which can occur 4-21 days after infection.

This means that you need to be patient in establishing a diagnosis. Even if the first test is negative, it may be necessary to test again at a later date.

3: Separate your horses by risk group.

You should segregate your horses into three different risk groups:

  • Infected
  • Exposed
  • Unexposed.

The three groups need to be separated where they cannot have nose-to-nose contact. Two layers of electric fencing can be used to create a separation wide enough to prevent physical contact.

Note: keeping horses in small groups separated by use before an outbreak occurs is a very good husbandry practice. Keep mares and foals separated from horses that regularly travel and show. Keep horses that only come in for the day physically separated from resident horses.

If all of your horses live together in one large group, all of those horses will automatically be considered exposed once one horse gets sick, greatly increasing the potential cost of an outbreak. Not good.

4: Check for fever…often.

Begin checking the temperatures of the horses in the exposed and unexposed groups twice a day to monitor for new cases. A horse’s normal temperature is between 99 and 101 F.

Any horses with temperatures of 101 F or more should be moved into the infected group.

5: Sterilize…especially your water buckets.

Strep. equi does not survive well in sunlight and dry conditions, but it can last 30 days in water troughs. Clean and disinfect water troughs and buckets daily to limit transmission.

Never ever dip the hose end into the water trough while filling. This is an excellent way to transport the bacteria.

Remember that bleach only works well on non-porous materials, like plastic. It is inactivated by organic material, so be sure to pre-wash any buckets you plan to sterilize with bleach.

6: Delegate someone to care for only sick horses.

If possible, have one person handle the care of the horses in the infected group. This person should not go to the other groups at all.

If that just won’t work at your place, feed and care for the horse in the unexposed group first. Next, care for the exposed group, saving the infected for last.

Wear gloves, gowns, and boots when handling infected horses. This will keep your clothes from becoming contaminated and possibly transmitting disease to the other groups.

7: Give sick horses their own stuff.

Try to have designated feed carts, muck buckets, and other similar items for each group of horses. Contaminated objects, called fomites, can easily transport the bacteria between groups.

If this is not possible, make sure you start with the unexposed group first, then exposed, then sick.

Clean and disinfect all equipment before you take it back to the unexposed group.

Try to have a separate trailer for hauling sick horses. Don’t put any exposed or unexposed horses into a trailer that has been used to haul sick horses without thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting it first.

8. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

No horses from the sick or exposed group should be allowed to go back with the unexposed group until they have been appropriately tested to determine if they are carriers.

9. Make sure everyone knows the plan

Biosecurity plans are different for every farm. These tips are a few of the most important concepts. A great plan requires an on-site evaluation of the facility and complete compliance with all the people at your barn.

Once you have a plan in place, be sure to have a meeting to make sure everyone knows how you plan to manage biosecurity in the event of an outbreak. This can prevent a person with good intentions from accidentally undoing all your hard work at isolation.

10. Remember how biosecurity can help you.

Biosecurity is not fun. It creates a lot of extra work for the short term. However, it can greatly reduce the impact Strangles can have on your barn.

Just to put it in perspective, imagine if your careful attention to biosecurity made it so only 20% of your herd of 100 horses became exposed. Not only would this save you money on treatment, it would decrease the expense of testing horses to determine carrier status by 80% versus if you decide to just turn all the horses out together and let the disease run its course.

Testing of carriers costs in the neighborhood of $200-300 dollars per horse. This means you would be saving up to $24,000 in testing alone. That savings certainly makes biosecurity a good return on the investment of your time and effort.

11. Don’t forget: this isn’t just about money or inconvenience.

Strangles can be a very serious disease with life threatening consequences, like internal abscesses. It should definitely be taken seriously.

Good biosecurity can prevent a lot of suffering in your horses–or even death.

Because carriers can shed bacteria for years, your horse could seem completely fine and still infect other horses.

12. Gather your supplies.

Good biosecurity is easier to accomplish if you have your barn stocked with everything you need ahead of time. Consider spending a little time and money getting all the supplies together before a horse in your barn gets sick. Most of what you’ll need is available on Amazon, so you don’t even have to go to the store!





Turns out what you don’t know could be wasting your money…

FTC Disclosure: The Sale Horse, LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This means we get a small commission if you buy through our Amazon store or by following our links and making a purchase.

Idaho Equine Hospital – Nampa, ID

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January 4, 2017 / by / in ,

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