Strangles is a bacterial infection, Streptococcus Equi. It can quickly spread from horse to horse contact or contaminated materials such as food and water buckets, grooming tools, etc.
The disease is known as strangles because sometimes extreme swelling of lymph nodes in the throat area can cause suffocation.
The bacteria enters through the nose or mouth reaching lymph nodes. The lymph nodes swell and become painful, forming abscesses. The abscesses usually burst and drain pus into surrounding tissues – the throat and nasal passages.
Signs of strangles include swollen lymph nodes in the neck and head area, pus draining from the nose or skin around the head and neck, fever, weakness, inappetance.
There is a rare form of strangles called “bastard strangles” where lymph nodes within the chest or abdomen are affected. Another rare complication of strangles is purpura hemorrhagus which can occur after vaccination or several weeks after a horse develops the disease. Symptoms are bruising and swelling over large areas of the body.
Treatment consists of warm compresses applied to the abscesses helping them to rupture or be lanced and drained. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) are prescribed for fever or any discomfort. Antibiotics are not usually used because there is a risk of them causing bastard strangles.
Prognosis for recovery is good and most horses do recover. However, fear of the disease is due to the fact that it is highly contagious and if diagnosed, total quarantine of the entire area is possible.
There is a preventive vaccine for strangles, but it’s not entirely effective and there can be unwanted side effects.