Equine Strangles: An Old Disease in a Modern World

Biosecurity measures remain a critical component to combating ‘strep throat for horses.’ Learn more in this article from The Horse‘s Spring 2024 issue.
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Biosecurity measures remain a critical component to combating ‘strep throat for horses’

Veterinarians can confirm strangles diagnosis by testing samples collected via nasopharyngeal wash.
Veterinarians can confirm strangles diagnosis by testing samples collected via nasopharyngeal wash. | Courtesy Elise Kahn

Teddy and the Chipmunks were brand-new additions at FarmHouse Fresh Sanctuary, in McKinney, Texas. The 15-month-old donkey and his three Miniature Horse friends were quarantined for the sanctuary’s standard 30-day period in the summer of 2023. On Day 29, feeling relieved that quarantine for Teddy and the Chipmunks was ending, the sanctuary’s team started removing the temporary fences that keep quarantined herds from touching noses with healthy resident animals.

On Day 30 the newbie herd started showing signs of strangles.

Strangles has been vexing horse owners since at least 1256. Caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi, the common name “strangles” refers to the upper respiratory noise that is one of the disease’s more remarkable clinical signs. It ranks among the frequently encountered infectious diseases affecting horses.

Strangles is an old problem, but when it’s happening to your herd, it can feel dramatically new, changing your daily routines in an instant.

“We went on strict lockdown with them,” recalls Elise Khan, manager of the sanctuary. “Only one person would go in with them … once that person finished in the morning, they had to go upstairs and shower and change their clothes.”

Khan’s sanctuary team has been forthcoming online about the strangles outbreak. Khan says the organization’s mission to rescue animals from some of the worst situations puts her and her colleagues in a position to share information.

“It’s usually not somebody’s fault. No one would intentionally spread strangles,” Khan says. “I just feel (with) all these medical things, it would just be really comforting to me to have seen someone else go through it. And understand what to do and how to prevent it.”

‘Strep Throat for Horses’

Although it is caused by a different bacterium, “strep throat for horses” is a suitable analogy for strangles, says Ashley Boyle, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM. Boyle is an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square, teaching in the field service section. She has been researching strangles for 15 years and was the lead author on the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine’s 2018 consensus statement regarding strangles

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We at The Horse work to provide you with the latest and most reliable news and information on equine health, care, management, and welfare through our magazine and TheHorse.com. Our explanatory journalism provides an understandable resource on important and sometimes complex health issues. Your subscription will help The Horse continue to offer this vital resource to horse owners of all breeds, disciplines, and experience levels.

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Written by:

Karen Hopper Usher has a Master’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University, where she reported for Great Lakes Echo. She previously worked in local news and is a lifelong equestrian.

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