Do I need insurance for my horse?
To most horse owners equine insurance seems like an unreachable product that costs thousands of dollars a year and the company never pays out. While that may have been the case years ago it certainly is not true now. Most companies have great coverage, will pay out for most advanced treatments, and the cost is reasonable! The largest expense to any insurance premium is the mortality. That is what you value the horse is worth should it die or have to be euthanized. You have to justify what you spent on the horse and any show record or training expenses to increase the value of the horse over the purchase price. For most horse owners it is not that the horse is going to die but it is the large veterinary expenses due to other non-fatal conditions such as lameness and some medical conditions that become costly. Even most colics today can be treated successfully if caught early and the horse can go on to live a successful life.
The medical and surgical coverage portion of the insurance policy is usually anywhere from 250-400/year depending on level of coverage and is the most important part of the policy. You can get up to 10,000/year medical and surgical coverage depending on the value of the horse and that will cover most colic surgeries and medical conditions needing to be treated. All you have to pay is a 250-300 deductable, so for at most 700/incident in a year you can get 10,000 worth of veterinary bills covered which is quite a savings! But don t use your insurance for every little thing because it could be excluded the next year when you renew. For example if your horse has a minor colic bout at a horse show and just needs a dose of Banamine and some mineral oil, don t turn that in unless the condition worsens and the horse needs more extensive treatment. Otherwise this is a red flag and the insurance company may not want to cover the horse for colic next year. Also maintenance joint injections are not covered by insurance companies.
Will insurance companies cover stem cell therapy, MRI, PRP, IRAP For most companies yes! They may have a dollar limit as to how much they cover for each therapy but most insurance companies realize the value of these therapies and will cover them to keep the horse healthy. One thing you do have to realize is that normally you have to pay the veterinarian for the services and then the insurance company will reimburse you. I have seen this take at most two months to get reimbursement depending on the company.
If the value of the horse on death is not what is most important to you but the veterinary coverage is then talk to your insurance company about what is the least value you can have on your horse and still get a good level of medical and surgical coverage. You could possibly get a 12,500 mortality and 8000 medical and surgical for a non-jumping/racing horse for 700/year. I would say that is pretty affordable when you consider the out of pocket expense if your horse gets sick, and if you show you have now increased those odds your horse will get sick or hurt. So shop around and ask questions and find what is best for your horse, but in general equine insurance is an invaluable policy to have so in your time of greatest need you can do that colic surgery you can t afford and save your companion!
My horse recently got a puncture wound on his leg, should I be worried about Tetanus?
Of all the common species of domestic animals, horses are considered to be the most sensitive to tetanus infection. This means that it requires very little exposure for a horse to become ill. The bacteria that causes tetanus is called Clostridium tetani. It normally lives in the soil in all areas of the world, so it is impossible to eliminate exposure to your horse.
The most common route of infection is via wounds especially to the hoof or lower leg as these areas are easily contaminated by dirt. Puncture wounds provide a great place for the tetanus bacteria to grow because of the lack of oxygen. Surgeries, dental work, uterine infections, or umbilical infections can also serve as potential portals of tetanus infection. As the bacteria grow, they produces several toxins that wreak havoc on the surrounding tissue as well as the entire body. It usually takes about 7-10 days after a horse is infected to begin showing signs associated with tetanus.
Tetanus usually has a gradual onset of signs that are associated with the neurologic system. Early signs include stiffness of the muscles of the head and neck. Eventually, the horse will assume a “sawhorse” stance where the neck and limbs are stretched out and stiff. Often, the third eyelid in the corner of the horse’s eye will protrude unnaturally. This will progress to the horse becoming recumbent with violent muscle spasms.
Tetanus causes death in about 50% of the cases. Treatment can be effective but is long and costly. A much cheaper and effective alternative is simply vaccinating your horse yearly for tetanus. Commonly, tetanus vaccine comes in a combination with Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus and Western Equine Encephalitis Virus called EWT for short. Sometimes, it comes in other combinations vaccines with rhinopneumonitis or influenza added. Tetanus vaccine can also be purchased as a sole vaccine.
There are two types of tetanus vaccine that may be given. It is very important to understand the difference between the two as they are given in very different situations. The most common type and what you would give the horse for yearly vaccination is termed a tetanus toxoid. The other form of tetanus vaccine is termed a tetanus antitoxin. The antitoxin should only be administered in special situations by a veterinarian when it is believed that a horse has never been vaccinated and has been recently exposed. The antitoxin should be used with much discretion only by a veterinarian as harmful side effects can occur.
It is important to vaccinate for tetanus even before a horse is born. This is accomplished by vaccinating the pregnant mare one month prior to foaling. When the foal nurses the first milk (colostrum), the protective antibodies are transferred to the foal guarding him from infection. Once the foal becomes about 6 months old, it is necessary to vaccinate again for tetanus as the maternal antibodies are decreasing at this time. From there, yearly vaccines are necessary to prevent tetanus. If it has been more than 6 months since vaccination, and the horse is wounded, it may be recommended that the vaccine be boostered.
If your horse is wounded, develops an infection, or undergoes surgery, it is unlikely that tetanus will be an issue if he has been vaccinated within the last year. Always call your vet in these circumstances to determine the most appropriate treatment and whether or not a tetanus booster is indicated.
My horse is a 15-year-old gray thoroughbred mare that has developed some lumps under her tail. Several people have told me that these are melanomas, all gray horses get them, and to just leave them alone. One lump seems to be getting bigger, should I be concerned?
Melanoma is a type of pigmented tumor that occurs fairly commonly in the horse. There is a predilection for melanomas in gray and white horses of any breed. Horses with other coat colors can develop melanomas, but it is less common. Melanomas tend to occur more commonly in older horses (over 15 years of age), but young horses, even foals, may be affected as well.
Typically melanomas occur in certain sites: under the tail and around the anus; in the throat latch region under the jaw; in lymph nodes; and less commonly, on or around the ears, lips, eyes, and mammary glands. Tumors can also be internal and not visible outwardly. The tumors can vary greatly in size, texture, and appearance. Typically, melanomas grow very slowly. The cause of melanomas, especially in gray horses, remains unknown.
Traditionally, it was believed that most melanomas are benign. This means they stay in one place and do not spread versus malignant which means they have the capacity to spread to other body parts. Usually, melanomas are not treated unless they cause a problem such as inhibiting defecation, swallowing, or causing organ dysfunction.
The idea that melanomas are “no big deal” and do not warrant immediate treatment is being scrutinized more closely. Recent research has shown that all melanomas are, in fact, malignant. Many tumors that start out as pea sized growths can lead to more serious problems that cannot be treated. It may be beneficial to treat these tumors early before they metastasize or grow too large to easily remove.
Biopsy, or taking a piece or the entire tumor to analyze, can be very helpful in many ways. It can verify that the tumor in question is actually a melanoma (other tumors can have a similar appearance.) Biopsy can help determine how aggressive the tumor may become or if it is likely to spread and grow. It can also help the veterinarian determine the most appropriate treatment.
There are many methods for treating melanomas. Some are very aggressive and entail surgically removing the mass, and some are conservative and entail just watching the mass for increases in size. Some methods entail giving oral medications, melanoma vaccines, or injecting chemotherapeutic agents into the tumor. The biopsy results can help your veterinarian determine which method is most appropriate.
It is becoming more evident that being proactive about melanomas early can help avoid devastating effects later. Especially in gray horses, be aware of any new lumps, bumps, or masses in the common melanoma locations. Be sure to report these to your veterinarian for evaluation at your horse’s annual exam!
My horse was diagnosed with a sinus infection about 6 months ago. We have treated with antibiotics two times now, but the smelly discharge from his left nostril keeps coming back. I am so frustrated! Why isn t this going away, and how do we cure it -Sara Jensen, DVM
Anytime you have treated something for that long and seen no improvement, it is time to switch gears. It is important to figure out what the problem is instead of just treating for an infection. Nasal discharge in the horse can have many different causes, and most of them cannot be cured with antibiotics alone.
The first step is to characterize the discharge and determine if it is coming from one or both nostrils. The next step is to determine the character: thin and clear, thick mucus or pus, bloody, smelly, etc. Some thin, clear nasal drainage is normal especially during the colder months. If nasal discharge is coming from both nostrils, it is likely that the problem is coming from the throat or lower airway. If the discharge is coming from one nostril, it is likely that the problem involves only one nasal passage or the sinuses.
In the case above, the discharge is only seen from one nostril, so it sounds like the problem is in the nasal passage or sinus. The next step is to determine what is causing the nasal discharge. The most common cause of smelly, thick discharge is a problem stemming from the upper molars. This may not immediately make sense, but these tooth roots are located in the maxillary sinus. If the tooth root becomes infected, the sinus also becomes infected which leads to a sinus infection. To determine if this is the cause, a simple oral examination with a dental speculum is necessary. Usually the offending tooth or teeth can be identified. If the teeth appear normal on oral examination, x-rays of the tooth roots can help pinpoint which tooth is infected.
Treatment involves extracting the infected tooth or teeth and flushing the sinus thoroughly. This is a good example of a condition that will not be cured with antibiotics alone. The reason for this is that feed and bacteria in the mouth can migrate around the infected tooth into the sinus causing continual infection. Yearly examination and balancing (floating) of the teeth can help prevent this problem.
If a tooth root is not the cause of the nasal discharge, the next step is to perform endoscopy of the nasal passages. This allows the nasal passage and sinus opening to be clearly seen. This diagnostic technique is useful in identifying tumors, masses, cysts, and fungal infections that occur in the horse s upper airway. With these types of problems, endoscopy may not give enough information about how big a mass is or what internal structures it is affecting. MRI and CT can be helpful in providing images of the horse s head in cross-section. MRI and CT are invaluable in surgical planning when a mass or tumor needs to be removed.
It is important to address abnormal nasal discharge as early as possible. In the case above, waiting six months to find the cause of the problem is six months that a tumor or mass could be growing or a tooth root infection could be causing the horse pain. Have your horse s teeth checked at your annual exams and have any abnormal nasal discharge inspected by your veterinarian as soon as possible.
My horse was prescribed Previcox for a chronic condition and I am hearing mixed rumors as to whether it can be used in a USEF or AQHA competition. Can you shed light on this?
Previcox is the brand name for firocoxib and is the canine chewable tablet. This is a similar product to the equine product Equioxx which is also firocoxib and is an oral paste. Many veterinarians are using Previcox in place of Equioxx due to the price difference between the two on chronic conditions. The problem with this is several fold, first it is illegal according to the AVMA and FDA to prescribe a drug in an off label usage when there is a similar product available for that species. For example we can use some medications in horses that are for cattle because we do not have a similar product labeled for use in horses. This is also how we can get away with using some compounded medications. This is called off-label usage and is acceptable to the FDA. However in this case there is an oral product in horses which is Equioxx so the use of Previcox is not allowed and should not be done. Realistically your veterinarian could be fined or worse lose their license if the issue was pushed.
The reason for this is to protect the horse and horse owner. We do know how Equioxx is metabolized by the horse just not Previcox ; no studies have been done to know if it even truly works. Also if you have noticed the dose in a 100 lb dog is a 227mg pill, but the horse dose is only of that pill. So the horse is definitely more sensitive to the drug and metabolizes it differently then the dog. Also some veterinarians are putting horses on Previcox long term and it has been shown that horses given Equioxx long term (over 60 days) did start seeing some of the same side effects as with phenylbutazone. Therefore a horse should not stay on the drug everyday indefinitely, they could have kidney and colonic ulcer problems. I know of some horse owners that have complained of oral ulcers associated with the Previcox tablets that we have not seen with the Equioxx paste.
The other problem is in the competition horse that uses Previcox . Again since we do not know the rate of metabolism of the pill in the horse we can not predict accurately the drug withdrawal time for competition. It is 12 hours from competition for Equioxx but some horse owners that used that same time period for Previcox did show up positive on a drug test. When I called USEF and talked to them they recommend coming off the Previcox for showing and only show on Equioxx to be safe. You can only use Equioxx for a total of 14 straight days in competition and then the horse needs to come off for a couple days. Also remember you are only allowed one non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) during competition now. You can not have your horse on Previcox or Equioxx and think you can bump them with either phenylbutazone (bute), Banamine , ketofen, Surpass , etc. at a show. This is now illegal. In an emergency colic or eye situation a veterinarian can give a shot of Banamine , but the horse must be removed from competition for 24 hours and fill out a medication report.
So to summarize, there is a great product out there for osteoarthritis called Equioxx . It is my favorite for competition horses. If you chose to use Previcox be aware of the long term effects, potential side effects, and the rules for competition. I would hate to see someone win a world/national title only to have it taken away due to a positive drug test!
What is the definition of an “unwanted horse”?
An unwanted horse is basically any horse that is not wanted by their current owner for various reasons. It could be they are injured, ill, old, not performing as well as before, or the owner couldn’t afford care anymore. The Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC) which is a branch under the American Horse Council has been working hard at educating horse owners on responsible horse ownership.
Part of what the UHC strives to do is reduce the number of unwanted horses and find alternative careers for horses before they become unadoptable. However it is a daunting task with the rising number of unwanted horses in the United States and the saturation of horses at rescue/non-profit organizations. These groups are receiving minimal financial support and really need our help. So what can you do to help the problem The first thing you should do is if the horse is not what you need or can afford ask for help! Call your veterinarian, friends, local horse groups, rescue organizations, etc. and ask what your options are!
You can try to sell your horse. There are several local and national publications as well as internet sites and great auction groups that can help you to sell your horse. Adoption is another option whether it is to a rescue group, therapeutic riding organization, or even a school riding program. A lot of these organizations are non-profit and you can get a tax write off for the donation. Some universities around the country have breeding programs that may be looking for quality broodmares for their program. Check out university websites for that information.
Another option is retraining for a different discipline. That has been great for the thoroughbred industry to retrain retired racehorses for different disciplines such as eventing and jumping. Some horses still want to work and be useful but may just not want their current occupation anymore. I am sure there are many people out there that feel the same about their job! Try a different sport or find someone that can teach the horse a different sport like dressage if they don’t want to jump anymore. A lot of people love trail riding for relaxation and pleasure, so if you have a trail safe horse ask your local horse clubs if they know of people looking for a trail horse.
Even though I am a reproductive specialist, I am not a fan of breeding your horse just because he/she can’t do their job anymore. That is part of the reason we got in this situation is indiscriminate breeding! Think before breeding about what are you going to do if the mare has problems with the pregnancy or the foal is born with problems, can you afford to take care of it What if you do not sell the foal as a weanling or yearling as you had hoped, are you prepared to care for that horse until you do find a home or sell it These are all tough economic decisions that people need to think of when starting to breed. Does it make sense for you
Rabies occurs very rarely in horses. Why is it necessary that I vaccinate for it?
Consider this scenario: A veterinarian is called out to look at a horse that is down and cannot rise on its own. The owner and her children plus some of the neighbors have been trying all day to get the horse up with no success. When the owner is asked when the horse was last vaccinated, it becomes apparent that the horse is way overdue for its yearly vaccines. This instantly creates a much larger problem: these signs can be consistent with rabies, and many people have been potentially exposed. How will the situation be handled Could this have been prevented
There are many effective vaccines for infectious causes of neurologic disease. If a horse is up to date on vaccines, these diseases can be placed much lower on the list of possibilities if a horse begins showing neurologic signs. The most important of these diseases is rabies because it is highly transmissible and fatal to humans if not treated immediately. In the scenario above, the veterinarian is not only faced with decisions regarding the treatment of the horse, but also must consider the well-being of the people involved. This is not an easy situation.
Rabies is a virus transmitted to horses through the saliva of infected wild animals. Usually infection occurs from a bite but can also occur if infected saliva comes in contact with an open wound or mucous membranes. The most common vectors are the fox, skunk, and raccoon. Less commonly dogs and cats can transmit rabies to horses. Horses that are bitten by an infected animal will usually begin to show signs within 2-6 weeks, so bite marks are not necessarily going to be evident when the horse begins to look ill. Once the horse begins showing signs, death usually occurs within 2-4 days.
Signs of rabies can vary widely which makes the disease difficult to diagnose. Often abnormal behavior is noted which can range from dullness and depression to aggression and hypersensitivity. Affected horses may display incoordination, have muscle weakness or tremors, or even become comatose. Other treatable neurologic diseases can cause the same signs, so it is important to have the horse seen by a veterinarian to try to rule out other diseases.
The only way to diagnose rabies is with post mortem (after death) examination of brain tissue. In the scenario above, this puts the veterinarian and owners in a difficult position. They must make a choice to put the horse to sleep and have it tested so that the people involved can immediately get treatment if the horse is positive for rabies. Unfortunately, rabies is not treatable in the horse once it is showing signs.
Rabies is easily and effectively prevented by yearly vaccination of your horse. Rabies vaccine can only be purchased and administered by a veterinarian. Vaccinating dogs and cats on the premises can help reduce the risk of rabies transmission to horses and people. If a horse begins showing neurologic signs (odd behavior, stumbling, muscle twitches, difficulty eating and swallowing, becoming recumbent, etc.), it is a good idea to wear gloves when handling the horse to protect yourself from contact with the saliva. Minimize the number of people that come in contact with the horse and call the vet immediately. Most importantly, keep your horses up to date on their vaccines to avoid scenarios like this one!
My mare just foaled but her placenta is still attached, how long after foaling will she pass her placenta?
What is the cause of colic?
Ideally we like to see the placenta passed in less than 3 hours post foaling. Most mares will normally pass the placenta within 2 hours of foaling if there are no complications. There is no good answer as to how long it is in before it causes a problem. I have seen mares that have had a placenta in for 6-8 hours and never have a problem. I have had mares retain the placenta for just 3 hours and have considerable complications. The problem is not only with the retention of the placenta but also with the health of the uterine lining and how well the uterus clears fluids and blood post foaling. The more trauma and difficulty during delivery, there is a greater chance the mare will have post foaling complications whether the placenta is retained or not. The immune system is working hard after a delivery to clean up the uterus from the debris and fluids associated with delivery. However some mares due to uterine conformation can have a harder time clearing the fluids/blood post foaling. The fluids and blood are a great medium for bacteria to develop and lead to a uterine infection. The uterine lining is compromised post foaling and if a bacterial infection does develop in the uterus it usually affects all layers leading to what we call a metritis. It is this septic metritis that causes the mare to become systemically ill. Some of the signs can include: fever, off feed, depression, colicky, abnormal bloodwork, etc… If treatment is not aggressive and started immediately the toxins from the bacteria can cause other more severe problems such as laminitis and organ failure. This is what we worry about the most in these sick post foaling mares.
The role the placenta plays in this cascade is that it acts like a ladder leading the way for the bacteria to enter into the compromised uterus. The bacteria usually come from fecal and environmental contamination. The placenta also continues to traumatize the uterine lining by pulling on the uterus from gravity externally until it is expelled. The placenta also contains blood that is an excellent media for the growth of bacteria. Usually when I see placental retention it sends up a red flag that there is more going on in the uterus. The uterus may be exhausted from a prolonged delivery or trauma and not able to function properly. When the uterus does not function properly it can accumulate fluid and bacteria as stated above.
When you have a mare that has placental retention the first thing you should do is contact your veterinarian. He/She can tell you the next step in treating the problem. Some things that might be done are tie the placenta up to add weight and give oxytocin to help uterine contraction. I do not recommend adding external weight to the placenta. That adds too much tension and excessive trauma to the uterine lining and can lead to removal of only part of the placenta. I will tie the placenta up on itself to add slight weight and get the placenta up out of the bedding. I do recommend oxytocin to help expulsion of the placenta but only under veterinary guidance. Some mares have such an exhausted uterus that either the oxytocin will not work or can lead to a uterine prolapse which is an even bigger emergency. If your mare retains her placenta call your veterinarian and have her seen relatively soon. The vet will probably perform a vaginal examination to make sure there is not any vaginal or uterine tearing and assess uterine health. Your vet will also start the mare on antibiotics and anti-inflammatories as a precaution for a potential metritis. I will also lavage the uterus to get out the excess fluids and blood but that is veterinary specific. If the placenta is expelled before the veterinarian arrives, keep it for examination. Remember even though it may look like the entire placenta is present, tags can be left inside and lead to a metritis as well. The biggest thing to remember is get the vet out and treat aggressively early and have them examine the placenta thoroughly. Early treatment will help keep your mare healthy and prevent any more devastating problems.
My mare just foaled and is now showing some mild signs of colic, should I be concerned?
The most common reason mares have mild colic signs post-partum is from uterine contractions trying to remove the placenta and remaining fluids after foaling. Maiden mares in general that are experiencing this for the first time more commonly react stronger to the uterine contractions then do seasoned broodmares. I always give my post foaling mares oral anti-inflammatories to help discomfort after foaling and decrease the swelling of the vulva and vagina from the trauma of delivery. Some people feel this will prolong expulsion of the placenta but in my hands it has not delayed time to placental expulsion. I feel that if the mare is more comfortable it will make it easier for her to release the placenta.
However other things can cause a mare to show pain that are far more serious and should not be ignored. If you attended the foaling and there was any difficulty in delivery the mare needs to be monitored more closely for complications. A mare that is acting uncomfortable should have a complete physical examination by a veterinarian. A uterine tear will either cause the mare to become painful or depressed. The fluids that are in the uterus are very irritating if invade the abdominal cavity and can cause a devastating septic peritonitis. If it is a large tear the mare will need to be stabilized and then transported for surgical repair of the tear. Very small tears can sometimes close with oxytocin therapy and aggressive treatment of the peritonitis. In either situation the mare is better cared for in a hospital setting and not in the field. Uterine prolapse either partial or complete is more common in draft breeds and after prolonged difficult delivery. For some owners it is difficult to determine that the tissue that is hanging out of the vulva is not just the placenta but also the uterus. This is a true extreme emergency if you see this. The veterinarian needs to come out immediately because the longer the uterus stays out of the vulva the more trauma and shock the mare will endure. While waiting for the vet, it is best to keep the mare quiet and the uterus clean. You can cover it with a trash bag to help keep all the dirt and debris off the tissue. The veterinarian will replace the uterus out in the field but once replaced some of the monitoring and aftercare may best be taken care of at a hospital.
The scariest for me is the uterine artery rupture. Older mares that have had numerous foals are the most likely to have this complication. Over time the uterine artery wall will become stretched out and may become friable. After a difficult delivery that artery may either leak slowly or have a sudden blow out. If your mare becomes violently painful, shocky with a very rapid heart rate but weak pulse and becomes pale this should be on your rule out list. Again this is a true emergency and a veterinarian needs to respond immediately. It is best to keep the mare calm and quiet. I usually take the foal away or at least out of harm since these mares if succumb to a sudden bleed out will become violent and fall down. We do not want the foal to get hurt or any person to become hurt. These mares need to be left at the farm until they are stabilized and should not travel until the clot has formed. Unless a blood transfusion is needed it may be best to leave them at the farm for at least a day because any travel stress or trauma may cause the artery to open up again. The hardest thing about keeping a mare going that had a slow leak/bleed is controlling the pain. This is a very painful process and as they get more uncomfortable and start rolling this is when they reinjure the artery and make it a fatal bleed.
There are several gastrointestinal alterations that can happen post foaling. Most immediately after foaling is usually a small colon tear or cecal rupture. Both of these are life threatening and need to get to a surgical facility as quickly as possible for repair if possible. More commonly seen is the large colon torsion. This can be seen anywhere from immediately post partum to several months later. The large colon has been pushed around for 3-4 months by a heavy, large uterus taking up space. Now that the mare has foaled it is like a party in the abdomen and the large colon can go anywhere including in the wrong place. This is another major emergency where the mare becomes violently painful, shocky and septic as the blood supply is cut off. It is best to get the mare to a surgical facility immediately and the faster they get her on the table the better the outcome. The longer the large colon goes without blood supply the sicker the mare will get and the poorer the prognosis.
So it is best when you see colic signs in your mare to get your veterinarian to come out and take a look at the mare. What may seem minor initially can have a devastating outcome if not identified early.
What is strangles and does my horse need to be vaccinated for it?
Strangles is an equine respiratory disease caused by a bacterial organism called Streptococcus equi subspecies equi. The disease is commonly referred to as Strangles due to the severe swelling and abscess formation around the throatlatch area. As is the case with your yearling, initial signs of strangles can be vague and difficult to differentiate from other respiratory diseases. Strangles is a highly contagious disease, and prevention and management of cases on the farm can often be frustrating.
Strangles most commonly affects young horses although adult horses with little previous exposure are also susceptible. Usually the disease is introduced to your herd by the addition of a new horse incubating the disease but not showing signs or a horse that has recently recovered but is still shedding the bacteria from an ongoing infection of the guttural pouches (an enlarged tube that connects the ear to the throat). The bacteria are spread by horses coming in contact with nasal secretions from an infected horse either directly or on blankets, brushes, tack, buckets, etc.
As mentioned above, signs of strangles can initially be vague: clear to thick yellow nasal discharge, high fevers (102-106 F), lymph node enlargement, and anorexia or off feed. Within a day or two these signs progress in severity to large amounts of nasal discharge consisting of thick mucus and pus, severe enlargement of the lymph nodes located around the throatlatch area which may rupture and drain pus, very high fevers, and general depression. Once the lymph node abscesses are opened and drained, the horse will begin to feel better and get well within 7-10 days. Sometimes the disease can take a more complicated course causing systemic signs such as swelling of the lower limbs or abscess formation internally. With the uncomplicated cases, the horse can typically overcome the infection on its own without antibiotic treatment. With more complicated cases, intensive treatment may become needed.
In order to determine if the cause of nasal discharge in your horse is strangles, your vet will need to obtain a sample of the nasal discharge or lymph node abscess. This can then be submitted for culture which takes approximately 3-5 days to get results back. A newer testing method called PCR (polymerase chain reaction) can return results faster and may be more likely to show infection in horses carrying the organism but not showing signs. One or both testing methods can be used, although using both will give fast and most reliable results.
While you are waiting on your veterinarian to get the sample and the results to return, it is important to begin institution of biosecurity measures to reduce the chances of a herd outbreak. This can be done by isolating affected horses into a pasture or barn where healthy horses cannot come in contact with them until they are known to no longer be shedding the bacteria. Rectal temperatures of the healthy horses should be taken 1-2 times daily, and horses with fevers (temperature greater than 101.5 F) should be placed into the isolation area and tested. All communal water tanks on the farm should be disinfected daily using a dilute bleach solution or other disinfectant recommended by your veterinarian. All items (buckets, halters, lead ropes, etc.) used by affected horses should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. The horses in the isolation area should be handled last. Personnel handling the infected horses should change clothes and thoroughly wash their hands before handling healthy horses again. A disinfectant foot bath should be placed outside the isolation area to dip feet before walking around the clean areas of the farm.
Vaccinating healthy or sick horses for strangles during an outbreak is not recommended. The reason for this is that vaccinated horses that become infected with strangles have a greater potential of acquiring serious complications that require intensive treatment. Always consult your veterinarian before giving any strangles vaccine to determine if it is appropriate for your horse.
Typically, it takes 2-3 weeks for infected horses to no longer be contagious. Before returning the horse to the general population, your veterinarian may want to obtain another culture or PCR to ensure that your horse is no longer harboring the bacteria. Also, your vet may perform an endoscopy of the guttural pouches, which is a place where the bacteria may continue to multiply and be secreted although the horse appears healthy.
A strangles outbreak can be very devastating and costly, but with quick and appropriate action, widespread infection of your herd can be effectively halted.