Strangles: What You Need to Know

strangles in horses

Strangles is an infectious disease in horses caused by the bacteria Streptococcus equi. It is one of the most contagious and common respiratory diseases seen among horses, particularly those kept in groups or living close to other horses. Strangles can cause serious illness and even death if not treated promptly.

How Serious is Strangles? 

Strangles can be a very serious condition in horses. While the majority of cases will resolve with appropriate treatment, cases that are not treated quickly or correctly may lead to further complications such as abscesses and pneumonia. In rare cases, strangles can even lead to death.

Clinical Signs of Strangles

The most common clinical signs of strangling include fever, nasal discharge (which may be clear or pus-filled), enlarged lymph nodes in the head and neck area, lack of appetite, depression and coughing. The enlarged lymph nodes can become abscessed and burst, releasing thick yellowish pus containing the bacteria. Horses with strangling often develop a guttural pouch infection, which can cause a thick yellow/green discharge from the nostrils. Lung involvement and severe airway obstruction may also occur.


It is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus equi which lives in the throat, nasal passages and lymph nodes of affected animals. The disease can be spread through direct contact with an infected individual or contaminated equipment, feed and pastures.


In order to diagnose strangles, a veterinarian may take samples from the horse’s nasal discharge or lymph nodes for laboratory examination. The samples are examined for the presence of Streptococcus equi bacteria. A chest x-ray may also be taken in order to assess any lung involvement.

Treatments and Prevention

Strangles is a contagious infection in horses that can be prevented with proper management practices. Treatment of this condition typically involves early diagnosis and antibiotics to reduce the severity of the symptoms. Vaccines are also available to protect horses from becoming infected by strangles, and these should be administered annually or semiannually depending on the type of vaccine used. In some cases, horses may need to be isolated to prevent the spread of the infection, and this can be done with quarantines or by separating infected horses from healthy animals. Finally, good hygiene practices should always be practiced when handling horses, such as washing hands thoroughly after contact with an animal or its environment. These steps will help minimize the spread of strangles, and help ensure the health of horses.


Vaccination is the most effective way to reduce the risk of strangles in horses. There are two types of vaccines available for strangles intranasal and parenteral (injection) vaccines. The intranasal vaccine is administered intranasally (into the nasal cavity) while a parenteral vaccine is injected intramuscularly. The intranasal vaccine is generally the preferred option, as it provides better protection from disease. Vaccination should begin at six months of age and continue annually thereafter. It is important to remember that vaccination does not completely prevent strangles but can help reduce the risk and severity of infection if contracted.


How long does it take for a horse to recover from strangles?

The amount of time it takes for a horse to recover from strangles varies depending on the severity of the disease and the age and overall health of the horse. Generally, if treated properly, recovery can occur within 3-4 weeks.

How long is a horse with strangles contagious?

Horses with strangles are contagious for three weeks after the resolution of symptoms. During this time, affected horses should be isolated from other horses to prevent the spread of infection.

What disinfectant kills strangles?

Detergents help to remove organic material from surfaces, which reduces the number of bacteria present in the environment. Disinfectants that contain sodium hypochlorite or quaternary ammonium compounds are typically used to kill the bacteria. Quaternary ammonium compounds are generally more effective against Gram-positive bacteria, such as those responsible for strangles in horses. It is important to use the disinfectant according to manufacturer instructions, as failure to do so can result in less than optimal results.

Can strangle come back?

Strangles can come back in horses even after they have recovered from the initial infection. This is because there is no way to completely eliminate the bacteria that cause strangles, Streptococcus equi, from an infected horse or environment. Although vaccination and treatment with antibiotics are effective at reducing the severity of the disease and preventing its spread to other horses, these methods do not provide complete protection against the disease.

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