For the past week Tonka has been rubbing at his jaw line on the trees, the fence posts and me. He has had a slightly runny nose, and when he nickers he sounds congested. The lymph glands around his throat are swollen, but he is eating with gusto and his temperature is normal. I was cautiously unconcerned about these symptoms until this afternoon when I heard that there has been an outbreak of strangles in the Maple Ridge area, about 40 km west of us.
Strangles is the bacterial equivalent of strep throat for horses, but its clinical manifestation is much more alarming. A severe infection can cause large abscesses around the lymph nodes and in the Eustachian tubes. So large, in fact, that they can crush the windpipe -- hence the name. A very severe infection (or bastard strangles) can cause abscesses around other organs, putting the horse's life at risk when they rupture and drain. Both Tonka and Raven have been vaccinated again strangles, but immunity is short-lived in all cases and simply isn't developed in 25% of the treated animals. Their overall risk of contracting the bacterium is low because they live in a closed herd, but a couple of weeks ago I cared for a neighbor's competition horses all week (none of whom are symptomatic). I put a call into our vet as soon as I heard about the outbreak, and we'll get them both swabbed and tested.