Don’t let disease ‘strangle’-hold island horses

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WITH recent ‘Strangles’ outbreaks reported across the Highlands, in a bid to keep island equine population disease-free, a request has been made that any horse which has been taken to the mainland since July 29 this year should not attend the 2011 Lochside Annual Horse Show on Saturday.

There have been confirmed cases of Strangles – the common name for the Streptococcus Equi virus – in the Black Isle and Turiff, and both the Lochside Arena Committee and local veterinarian are asking all owners within the Western Isles to be extremely vigilant with their horses and ponies.

And if your animal has travelled to the mainland this summer and returned to the island, they could be a potential carrier of the illness, as awareness has been raised of the Strangles outbreak in the Highland area since early July.

Lochside Arena Chair, Fiona Chisholm, said: “We fully acknowledge that this ruling might cause disappointment for some horse/pony owners in the islands, but we feel that by taking the necessary precautions now we can maintain a healthy horse population within the islands.

“Care should also be taken with any equines mixing with horses/ponies that have recently visited the affected areas and returned to the islands.”

Ms Chisholm added that competitors attending the Show will be asked to sign a disclaimer stating that their horse/pony has not visited the affected areas on the mainland or been in contact with any horse that returned to the island within the last 14 days.

Strangles, which is also referred to as ‘Equine Distemper’, is caused by a bacterium and signs of infection include fever, heavy nasal discharge and swollen or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and throatlatch. Affected animals may also stop eating and have a dull affect.

Although mortality is low in cases without complications, Strangles is very contagious as the disease is spread when the nasal discharge or material from the draining abscess contaminates pastures, barns and feed troughs etc.

Precautions to limit the spread of the illness are vital therefore, and an isolation period of around six weeks for infected animals is usually necessary to ensure the disease is not still incubating once treated.

Commenting on the recent Highland outbreaks and the upcoming island horse show, local vet Hector Low said: “We are trying to reduce the risk here rather than eliminate it. The horses that attended the mainland show and been in contact with any animals that have been in the vicinity of a strangles outbreak in the last 14 days present a high risk.

“It isn’t possible for any show organisers to completely guarantee that every animal attending is not carrying anything infectious, it’s about reducing the risk to an acceptable level.”