Contagious horse infection found in Windsor

Ashley Thompson
Published on April 23, 2014
Horse owners are being advised to be on the lookout for strangles, a contagious bacterial infection affecting horses. (File photo)

A contagious bacterial infection affecting horses is making its rounds in the Windsor and West Hants area.

Dr. Paul Johnston, a veterinarian at the Avon Animal Hospital in Windsor, says he’s aware of about 12 to 15 cases of strangles that have been found in three areas of West Hants so far.

Telltale signs of strangles (also known as horse distemper) include loss of appetite, fever, depression, coughing and nasal discharge.

Johnston says that while it is rare for a horse to die as a result of the bacterial infection, strangles is can be fatal for young horses.

“They have swollen lymph glands in their neck, which is where the name strangles comes from,” he said, noting that severe swelling can result in suffocation.

Strangles, often likened to strep throat, is highly contagious. Owners can reduce the likelihood of their horses being exposed to strangles while away from home by preventing nose-to-nose contact with other horses, cleaning rented stalls thoroughly before use and keeping a horse out of shared water and feed sources.

 “They get sick the same way we do,” Johnston said.

Horses that have recently travelled to a show or exhibition are more likely to be exposed to the infection. Handlers that have been in an area impacted by strangles must change their clothing and footwear and wash their hands rigorously before interacting with another horse to reduce the likelihood of the infection spreading.

“There has been regular outbreaks over the last several years. Now it would appear that strangles is endemic in our population of horses,” Johnston noted.

He says owners of horses that travel regularly should consider vaccinating their pets for strangles on an annual basis.

“If your horse is going to go to exhibitions and horse shows and co-mingles with a lot of other horses, then we recommend vaccinating them,” he said.

To view recommended guidelines for horse owners in the event of a strangles outbreak visit: