Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Strangles reported in Whidbey Island horses, but an issue for all horse owners

Dr. Amber Itle
Assistant State Veterinarian 

Last week, strangles was diagnosed in a horse and two ponies at a Whidbey Island stable. There are a total of five horses and two ponies on the premise and the infected animals were recently purchased from a sale yard in Oregon.

While there is no formal quarantine for the facility, the owners have committed to isolating the infected horse and ponies, which are all under the supervision of a veterinarian. Additionally, no animals are currently being allowed on or off the premise.

Strangles is rarely fatal and the prognosis for recovery is usually very good with proper care. But as the name suggests, strangles can affect a horse’s respiratory system. Typically, signs of the disease include:

  • Fever.
  • Abscesses in the mandibular lymph nodes.
  • Nasal discharge that can include thick white and yellow mucus.
  • Inflammation of the throat.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Wheezing.
  • Coughing.
  • In rare cases, bleeding from the capillaries.
While strangles is contagious and endemic in Washington, it is not usually fatal. Still, it is a reportable disease, meaning any diagnoses of strangles should be reported to the Washington State Veterinarian's Office.

The best protection against strangles is practicing good biosecurity. Here are some other suggestions from the Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC):
  • When possible, isolate new horses for up to three weeks when they are being introduced to a new facility. 
  • During an outbreak, such as the situation at the Whidbey Island facility, avoid coming in contact with susceptible animals after handling an infected animal. 
  • Wear protective clothing, avoid using the same equipment on multiple animals, and disinfect both your hands and equipment when moving between animals.
The EDCC also publishes this “Strangles Fact Sheet,” which has more tips and suggestions.

Veterinarians should alert the State Veterinarian's Office of reportable diseases by calling (360) 902-1878.