About Strangles

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Typical signs of strangles include:

Loss of appetite or difficulty eating
Raised temperature
Nasal discharge
Swollen glands in the throat region
Rupture of glands with abscess material/pus

In addition, more severe strangles signs include difficulty breathing.

Horses can show all or some of these symptoms and the severity of the symptoms shown can vary widely. Sometimes your vet will be able to make a diagnosis on clinical signs alone but often they will need to take a swab from the throat (via the nose) or from abscesses to confirm a clinical diagnosis. There is a blood test available to help identify infected horses, carriers and those horses that have been previously exposed.

If your horse shows any of these symptoms it is important that you contact your vet to diagnose and treat your horse as soon as possible.

If symptoms are mild they may be mistaken for other respiratory diseases such as a dust allergy or a ‘common cold’. Infected horses showing a mild nasal discharge with no other obvious clinical signs are still just as hazardous as more severe cases in spreading the disease and developing complications.

Complications of the disease

Complications are frequent with up to 10% of recovered horses becoming carriers of the disease. The bacteria sit in the guttural pouch (sacs at the back of the throat) and the horse will continue to pass the bacteria on to other horses for months or even years. Carrier horses can be difficult to diagnose as typically they show no signs but once diagnosed they can be treated and resolved of the underlying infection.

Strangles can be fatal in 1% of cases when abscesses develop in other body organs which grow and rupture, a form known as ‘bastard strangles’. Another life threatening complication is Purpura hemorrhagica. This is widespread small bleeding along with fluid accumulation (oedema) of the limbs, eye lids and gums. The peripheral accumulation of fluid can be so extreme that circulatory failure and death ensue.


Unlike equine flu, strangles is not airborne, but it can spread quickly through direct contact between horses or via indirect contact, e.g.

tack and equipment
shared drinking water and feed
yard dogs and cats. They will not develop disease itself but will help transmit infection in a similar way that humans do on their hands and clothing

The incubation period (time from infection to showing clinical signs) is from 3-14 days with abscesses forming up to 2 weeks later.

Nasal discharge - a symptom of equine strangles


Gultural Pouch


Strangles is a
highly contagious
disease and the
most common
bacterial infection
of horses