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What Are The First Signs Of Strangles In Horses?

Has your horse been in contact with a horse with strangles? This highly contagious bacterial infection spreads via airborne droplets when the infected horse snorts or sneezes, through direct nose-to-nose contact, or by sharing equipment.

It can take an average of two weeks for symptoms to develop in your horse after they have been exposed to an infected horse. To ensure that a potentially infected horse does not expose others in your stable, it’s best to quarantine for 3-4 weeks. You should also quarantine any new horse that comes to your stable.

If your horse does develop strangles, they can shed the bacteria for up to a month following their recovery, so a longer quarantine will be necessary.

What Are The First Signs Of Strangles In Horses?
As with many infections, the first symptom of strangles is a fever. Because a fever is often the first symptom and may not be accompanied by other symptoms, it’s often missed.
If your horse has been exposed to strangles, check their temperature 2-3 times per day. A healthy horse has a body temperature of about 99 degrees Fahrenheit, and a temperature of or over 102 degrees indicates a fever.

Other Signs Of Strangles In Horses
Besides a fever, your horse may show other early signs of strangles.

You may notice decreased appetite and your horse may seem to have less energy. As the infection progresses, your horse will likely develop a cough and thick, yellow nasal discharge.

Your horse may also have swollen lymph nodes around their jaw or throat that can compress their airways and make it more difficult to breathe. Their lymph nodes can develop into abscesses that may burst, releasing bacteria-laden fluids onto their surroundings and potentially infecting other horses.

Severe Symptoms Of Strangles
For some horses, a strangles infection can lead to life-threatening complications, though the majority of cases resolve with little treatment within about six weeks.

You may need to provide daily support like warm compresses to aid abscess draining. Some horses have trouble swallowing due to swollen lymph nodes close to their esophagus and may need moist food while they recover.

In the meantime, you can work with your veterinarian to determine the severity of your horse’s infection and whether they need antibiotics or surgical draining of abscesses.

In rare cases, abscesses can develop on your horse’s internal organs from a complication known as “bastard strangles.” Symptoms include colic and weight loss. Bastard strangles can be life-threatening and typically requires antibiotics from a veterinarian.

Foals, older horses, and other vulnerable individuals are at greater risk of life-threatening complications from strangles. Call your veterinarian if you suspect an infection in an at-risk horse or if you suspect that your horse needs additional support.