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New Health Scheme for Horses Aims to Control Strangles Disease

Published Wednesday, 12th June 2013 in SAC Consulting news

Horse standing at fence

A new, UK wide, health scheme addressing the threat to horses from the disease Strangles has been launched by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

The Premium Assured Strangles Scheme (PASS) is designed to protect horses and livery yards from infection and reduce the spread of the disease in local areas. The programme has the support of the British Horse Society, Scotland.

The new Strangles health scheme is the initiative of the “SAC Consulting” Division of the Rural College. It has long experience of running health schemes for cattle, sheep and goats. According to Professor Jill Thomson, Veterinary Manager with SAC Consulting Veterinary Services:

“Strangles has been on the increase, with unexpected outbreaks in many parts of the country, followed by disease spread in local areas. The disease can be carried by healthy-looking horses and then spread by contact with others. A concerted effort is needed to bring Strangles under control and this scheme provides the framework to do this in an organised and transparent way.”

Strangles is highly contagious and caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus equi.  It affects the lymph glands around the throat and can be caught from direct horse to horse contact, contaminated water or equipment and from human hands or clothing. Horses with weakened immune systems, or in closer contact with others, as they are in riding schools, livery yards, racing stables or stud farms, can be particularly susceptible.  

While not usually fatal, untreated cases can lead to abscesses in the neck which can sometimes enlarge to the point that the windpipe becomes crushed and the horse appears strangled. It is possible for infection to spread throughout the horses’ body. However it can be treated and the recovery rate is good if it is caught early.

In a typical case the livery yard owner would apply to join the scheme, following consultation with their horse owner clients and vets. Members are required to blood test their horses annually. If no trace of Strangles is found the yard gets a PASS accreditation. If exposure to the disease is found the affected horse(s) must be isolated and treated to eliminate infection. Only then can the yard be passed. The appropriate veterinary surgeons will be involved at every stage.

All scheme members must then follow strict guidelines (STEPS guidelines) to reduce further risk, including that posed by new arrivals or taking horses to shows, events or competitions. It is believed that members will have an enhanced status in their community and amongst potential clients. As more businesses join there will be less risk of the disease becoming established in the local area.

“Through this proactive approach,” says Jill Thomson “And with proper regard to biosecurity, the risk of Strangles will be greatly reduced. No one wants their horses to suffer such a terrible disease and together we can beat strangles’’.

For further information contact Professor Jill Thomson or Alistair Cox at SAC Veterinary Services, Edinburgh on 0131 535 3130 or

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