Unveiling Strangles: A Comprehensive Guide to Identifying This Equine Menace

A Vet Vaccinating a Horse
A Vet Vaccinating a Horse
A Vet Vaccinating a Horse

Strangles, caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi subspecies equi, is a highly contagious infection among horses, characterized by severe respiratory infections and lymph node swelling. Early detection is crucial to manage the disease and prevent its spread within and between equine herds. This article aims to provide a detailed guide on identifying strangles in horses, with references from reputable sources to ensure accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Understanding Strangles

Strangles primarily affect the upper respiratory tract of horses, leading to symptoms that can significantly impair their well-being. The disease is named after the strangled breathing sounds made by affected horses due to enlarged lymph nodes.

Early Signs of Strangles

1. Fever:

The initial sign of strangles often is a high fever, which can reach up to 106°F. During this phase, horses may not show other signs of illness.

2. Decreased appetite and lethargy:

Affected horses may exhibit a lack of appetite and seem lethargic or depressed.

3. Nasal Discharge:

A clear to mucopurulent nasal discharge is a common symptom. As the disease progresses, the discharge becomes thicker and more purulent.

4. Cough:

A persistent cough is another early sign of strangles.

5. Lymph Node Swelling:

Lymph nodes around the throat may swell, causing difficulty in swallowing and breathing.

Advanced Signs of Strangles

1. Abscess Formation:

The hallmark of strangles is the formation of abscesses in the lymph nodes which may rupture, releasing infectious pus.

2. Difficulty in Breathing:

As the lymph nodes enlarge, they can obstruct the airway leading to labored breathing or ‘strangling’ sounds.

3. Extended Head and Neck:

Horses may extend their head and neck in an attempt to ease breathing.

Diagnostic Procedures

1. Nasopharyngeal Swab:

A nasopharyngeal swab can be collected to test for the presence of S. equi bacteria.

2. Blood Tests:

Blood tests can help identify the infection and monitor the horse’s immune response.

3. Ultrasound:

Ultrasound can be used to evaluate the extent of lymph node swelling and abscess formation.

4. Endoscopy:

Examining the upper respiratory tract using an endoscope can also be beneficial in diagnosing strangles.

Preventative Measures

1. Vaccination:

Vaccinating horses is a crucial step to prevent strangles. Consult your vet for a suitable vaccination schedule.

2. Quarantine:

Newly acquired or returning horses should be quarantined for at least two weeks to monitor for signs of strangles.

3. Regular Monitoring:

Regular check-ups and monitoring of horses for early signs of strangles can significantly help in controlling an outbreak.

4. Disinfection:

Regular cleaning and disinfecting of stables, feeding utensils, and other equipment can help prevent the spread of strangles.


Strangles can cause considerable distress to horses and pose a significant challenge to horse owners and veterinarians. Early detection followed by appropriate management practices is essential to control and prevent the disease. By being vigilant and adopting a proactive approach, the risks associated with strangles can be significantly reduced, promoting a healthy and thriving equine community.


  1. “Strangles in Horses – Symptoms and Treatment,” Equine Wellness Magazine.
  2. “Strangles – a contagious disease of horses,” RSPCA.
  3. “Understanding and Managing Strangles – A Horse Owners Guide,” American Association of Equine Practitioners.
  4. “Strangles in Horses,” Merck Veterinary Manual.

For further information on detecting and managing strangles in horses, consult the sources mentioned above and seek advice from professional veterinarians.

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