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Regular vaccination against strangles is necessary especially if you travel with your horse or board your horse where they are exposed to different horses. Your veterinarian will recommend that your horse be vaccinated at least once a year for strangles.
The strangles vaccine comes in two forms, intranasal or intramuscular. The intramuscular injection contains the strangles virus that is killed. The intranasal spray contains the strangles vaccine that is modified live and puts the bacteria directly into the upper respiratory tract.
Horses that are diagnosed with strangles have abscesses that form under their jaw and pus coming from their nostrils. It can cause your horse to have difficulty breathing and swallowing. Strangles is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi. Strangles is a highly contagious disease and any horse that is exposed to or suffering from the disease should be isolated to stop it from spreading to other horses.
Horses are more likely to have an allergic reaction to the intranasal spray than the intramuscular injection. However, pain and swelling at the injection site are also common. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian for an assessment.
The intranasal spray does offer a higher level of immunity against strangles because it contains the modified live virus, however, it does involve some risk when administering it. The modified live virus can trigger a mild case of strangles in your horse.
Also, when given intranasal, your horse may blow or pull away as the vaccine is being sprayed. This can cause some of the live bacteria to be ejected into the air or onto your veterinarian’s hands. The bacteria can then infect your horse or other horse’s nearby.
Any bacteria that enters the body via intramuscular through injections are then walled off by your horse’s immune system and form an abscess. This causes localized strangles and the horse is not contagious until the abscess is cut open.
Your veterinarian will begin by taking a thorough medical history. Be sure to tell them about any recent vaccines and how those vaccines were administered. This will help your veterinarian determine where to begin their search for answers. If an abscess is present, make sure your veterinarian knows that the strangles vaccine was recently given so they do not cut open the abscess and put other horses in the barn at risk.
An ultrasound of the abscessed area should show the pocket of pus. Taking a sample of the pus, by drawing it out with a needle, will confirm if the strangles virus is present in that abscess.
Mild symptoms such as pain and swelling should diminish within a few days. Closely monitor your horse and ensure that the symptoms are not worsening. Your veterinarian will need to make a note in your horse’s file about the allergic reaction.
If your horse is suffering from an abscess that contains the strangles virus, your veterinarian will need to remove your horse to a quarantined location before treating the abscess. Once your horse is quarantined, your veterinarian will cut open the abscess and drain the pus. The infected pus will need to be cleaned up and properly disposed of immediately following the procedure.
After the pus has drained, your veterinarian will insert a drain into the abscess so it will remain open and continue to drain all the pus and fluid from it. Your horse will be put on antibiotics and given supportive care while the abscess is being taken care of.
If your horse is experiencing systemic shock, your veterinarian will begin supportive care immediately and hospitalization will most likely be required. Your horse will need to be continually monitored for several hours as they recover.
Speak with your veterinarian about the two strangles vaccines available and ask them what their feelings are about both. If you do decide to use the intranasal spray, take precautions. If your horse is getting other vaccinations also, give the nasal spray last and give it outside of the barn in fresh air. This will limit the exposure to other horses and ensure that bacteria are not spread to others.
It is best to not give more than one vaccine at a time, so ask your veterinarian about setting a vaccination schedule that keeps your horse from needing multiple vaccines at once.
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