When many people think of strangles, they think of yards on shut down, horses with pus-filled ulcers and expensive vet visits. Strangles can be a debilitating illness for horses but can be equally as debilitating for livery yards and their owners as well. There are over 600 confirmed cases of Strangles in the UK every year, with many more going unrecorded. Whilst most horses recover from Strangles without any effects, there is the risk that any horse with the disease can be one of the 20% that suffers complications, which can even lead to death. Even if a horse recovers in full, the process of isolation, testing and management can take their toll and be a stressful time for the horse, horse owner, and yard owners. Not only for Strangles, but the recent outbreak of Equine Influenza has brought biosecurity to the forefront on all levels, with many yards finding themselves poorly prepared for such an occurrence.
Any horse can be susceptible to catching Strangles, or other infectious diseases, but as always… prevention is better than cure. More and more yards are introducing standardised biosecurity measures to help keep their yard clear of the risk of bringing in, and subsequently spreading infectious disease, yet many yards still shun the idea. Whilst the initial costs for set up, vaccinations, blood tests and swabs can be costly, when compared to the effect on a whole yard in the event of an outbreak it is a worthwhile investment. If you are new to setting up biosecurity measures on your yard, or are thinking of introducing them, it is an idea to not just introduce checks to new liveries, but also to test all existing liveries as well. While this can be costly and time-consuming, bulk testing can be cheaper, and yard owners and clients can have peace of mind that steps are being taken to protect equines on the yard.
Whilst for illnesses such as Equine Influenza, you can have a vaccination to help prevent spread, this should not always be considered the end of the matter. As with many contagious diseases, there are many strains of viruses that can cause these illnesses and are not necessarily always covered by the vaccines. The recent Flu outbreak has proven that even in horses whose vaccinations are up to date, there is still the risk that they can become ill. Similar to Strangles, where horses that have already has the illness previously can be what is known as a ‘carrier’- they are not ill, nor show symptoms of the disease, but do retain some of the infectious material in their body which, if coming into contact with other equines through direct or indirect contact, can cause an outbreak. Infection can be passed through nose to nose contact, sharing of equipment, through water troughs and buckets, sharing of stables or even from cross handling by staff. It is estimated that 10% of all horses that have had Strangles are a carrier. It is thought that unidentified carriers are the main causes of outbreaks. Some owners may not even know if their horse has ever had strangles, let alone know if they were tested clear at the end of the illness.
With strangles, there are processes in place to screen horses to help find carriers. By checking all existing liveries on your yard, you can see if any of them are carriers and, if they are, take the necessary steps to clear them of the disease. This is beneficial to both the yard owner and horse owners as by trying to identify and eliminate carriers, they can be satisfied that the risk on the yard is much lower. Whilst it is not impossible for horses to encounter the disease outside of the yard, if sensible biosecurity steps are taken by clients and staff, this will hugely reduce the likelihood. This will also demonstrate you to be a yard owner who takes care in the welfare and health of horses on your yard, and proactive steps to reduce the risk of infectious disease.
Whilst many horse owners may have an issue with the initial testing costs, the comparative cost of an outbreak can be devastating to horse and yard owners, especially if your yard relies on a lot of equine movement- such as sales or schooling liveries, on site events or clinics, or those wanting to go out to train or compete.
To put it into perspective, below is a non-exhaustive list of the additional costs incurred by both horse and yard owners in the event of an outbreak of Strangles. These are not assumptions or maybes, but genuine lists of costs sourced from yard owners across the UK. A single outbreak, even if managed well, can put a yard on lock down for several months until all horses are confirmed clear and for that time there must be procedures in place and no horses entering or leaving the yard- even for competitions and, in theory, arriving or departing liveries. Versus the comparatively minor cost of initial testing, even for a whole yard, the inconvenience and cost of an outbreak is so much higher:
- Diagnosis Tests- blood tests, guttural pouch endoscopy, swabs and vet visit costs
- Treatment and Monitoring- medication, first aid equipment, thermometers, gloves
- Set up of Isolation areas- fencing, signs, new equipment, disinfectant, sanitizer, buckets, sprayer
- Protective Equipment- coveralls, gloves, shoe covers,
- Additional forage, bedding, feed costs due to containment and stripping stables
- Additional staffing costs to cover extra hours required for containment, procedures and health checks
- Increased paddock maintenance if turning out 24/7 for containment
- Replacement of potentially contaminated equipment- hay nets, lead ropes, headcollars, rugs
- Removal from the yard of potentially contaminated bedding and waste
- Loss of income from other equine employment (i.e if YO is a saddle fitter, chiropractor etc)
- Loss or replacement of staff for cross-contamination confinement (i.e if employee is an equine student or works elsewhere)
- Loss of regular services providers wanting to avoid cross-contamination (farrier, vets, dentists)
- Loss of Liveries
- Loss of income from facility hire or events
- Loss of income from inability to introduce new clients
- Loss of Competition entry fees
- Clearance Tests- blood tests, swabs, vet visit costs
- Negative effect on business
Obviously, these costs are not isolated to the yard owner, and many would be deemed as the responsibility of the horse owner, especially for those items directly related to the treatment of their individual horse. Not to mention the inconvenience of a yard on lock down and the effect this can have on an owner who wants to compete, or who expects their horse to be out 24/7 in the summer on a low-cost livery when it is in fact stabled and in isolation. Many horse owners are not prepared for these costs in the event of an outbreak, and many do not even consider them when thinking about the costs of the initial preventative test.
The best way to prepare for a Strangles outbreak is to not think it won’t happen to you! Good hygiene and isolation practices are the best way to protect your yard from strangles. Redwings recently launched their new pledge campaign for both horse and yard owners, encouraging both parties to take more responsibility over biosecurity measures, and to encourage good biosecurity practice on yards. It is easy to set up a biosecurity procedure for your yard and to introduce basic steps and checks as standard to keep the risk low. I have worked with Redwings on a new biosecurity agreement between yards and their clients to explain their procedures and to make it clear that they mutually agree to do all they can, and take all precautions possible, to not bring Strangles or other infectious disease on to the yard. Simple steps such as these opens the lines of communication between horse owners and yard owners. As well as an initial meeting between yard owners and clients to raise awareness of the risks, and explain and introduce any new procedures, it is certainly worth considering a bi-annual follow-up meeting to remind clients of the precautions they should be taking:
Even a yard who takes some precautions is less at risk than yard who takes none! Whilst it may not be possible for yards to monitor the comings and goings of all their clients, staff or service providers on a day to day basis, or to isolate equines every time they leave the yard for an event, some easy to follow procedures can be put in place which are easy to do and will still help keep the risks lower than no action at all.
- No nose to nose contact of equines at events
- No sharing of communal troughs, buckets, or equipment at events]
- To Be diligent of Transporters and Horse Transport disinfecting their vehicles between clients
- No nose to nose contact or cross-contamination of non-livery equines using your facilities (such as arena hire or events)
- On return from an event, monitor resting temperature to check for any signs of fever
- Request all visiting equestrian professionals visit early in the day (when they will have fresher clothes and not visited any yards beforehand)
- Request that staff who encounter equines elsewhere change their clothing before visiting the yard
- If there is a local outbreak, advise all clients and ensure no equine professionals have visited this yard prior to visiting yours
- To maintain an open line of communication if they feel their horse may be showing signs of any infectious disease
Overall, good communication with your clients over the risks of the disease entering your yard, and the sensibility and reduced costs of taking preventative measures beforehand can only build on your reputation as a responsible yard owner and will also increase the ability to spot in good time should a horse be showing symptoms. Having procedures and processes in place would then allow you to deal with an outbreak quicker than an unprepared yard. This can save you time, money and hassle which in the long run will certainly be a sound investment!
The above information is not exhaustive with regards to the procedures and processes for Strangles. Redwings have recently launched their updated Strangles Information Pack, and a brand new Strangles Hub. Both contain a huge amount of information on Strangles itself, as well as preventative measures, information sheets and case studies. On the new Strangles hub you can find out more about taking the Yard Owner Pledge, download the Biosecurity Yard Agreement and even share the Horse Owner Pledge with your clients.