Horse owners are being urged to take part in this year’s Strangles Awareness Week (SAW) – which aims to educate people about the dangers of the highly contagious equine disease strangles and help to prevent an outbreak.
Leading equine welfare charities, vets, researchers and higher education institutions from around the world* have come together to organise the week which is now in its third year and taking place between 2nd – 8th May.
This year, owners are being asked to take the ‘Temperature Check Challenge’ by taking their horse’s resting temperature each day and inputting the reading into a free online checker which will help them get to know their horse’s normal range - something that fluctuates by a fraction of a degree through the day according to a range of factors.
People taking the challenge will also be entered into a free prize draw and contribute to a database of temperatures that will help to understand what a normal healthy range is in horses.
A high temperature is an early warning sign that your horse may have been infected with strangles – and will become infectious to other horses - so getting to know what your horse’s ‘normal’* temperature is could prevent an outbreak.
Strangles is the most commonly diagnosed equine disease worldwide with around 600 cases reported in the UK every year and it’s hoped that it will be recognised as an equine disease of international risk by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) this year. Symptoms of the contagious respiratory illness range from laboured breathing, difficulty eating and depression, to a high fever, thick nasal discharge and painful abscesses. In severe cases strangles can pose a risk to the horse’s life.
Andie McPherson, Chairperson of SAW and Campaigns Manager at Redwings Horse Sanctuary, said: “The Temperature Check Challenge aims to build awareness of the importance of this vital sign of horse health as well as give horse owners confidence in taking their horse’s temperature – which is done using a digital thermometer placed in the rectum.
“This is something that requires a bit of preparation on the part of horse owners if it isn’t yet part of your usual routine – and we know that for most horse owners it isn’t. To help with the process, we’ve produced a SAW thermometer that people can purchase for just £5 and guidance on how to take your horse’s temperature safely for the first time.
“During SAW, people can upload their horse’s resting temperature into our free online temperature checker and it will calculate the average based on the number of entries uploaded for each horse. As well as challenging themselves to get used to taking temperature from their horse, the Temperature Check Challenge will help owners know what is normal for their horse. If a high temperature is added the checker will notify the owner to look for other signs of ill health, check again later and consider speaking to a vet for advice.
“A high temperature is often the earliest sign that a horse is unwell. It can mean the presence of infection and inflammation for a range of reasons, but in the case of strangles, spotting fever can mean the difference between one horse infected or many.”
A strangles outbreak can be financially and emotionally devastating for owners and equestrian businesses with horses often remaining infectious for several weeks, resulting in costly and lengthy quarantine procedures with the potential for a temporary closure of livery yards and the cancellation of events. Meanwhile, the cost of a thermometer and building in a regular routine of checking for fever on moving yards or return from events is comparatively inexpensive and, as it could indicate inflammation and explain poor performance issues, has benefits far beyond the identification of strangles.
Dave Rendle, British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) Junior Vice President and Chair of the BEVA Health and Medicines Committee, said: “BEVA are very pleased to support another Strangles Awareness Week and to see new initiatives being developed to prevent the spread of strangles and other infectious diseases. BEVA would urge every horse owner and yard owner to discuss infectious disease control with their vet and to have plans and protocols in place. It is essential that horse owners are familiar with practical measures such as temperature checking so that they can identify infectious diseases such as strangles before they can spread. The Temperature Check Challenge is a great way to become more familiar with temperature checking.”
If you’re a horse owner, yard manager, vet or equine professional and would like to join a list of ambassadors to help promote the SAW through social media, please sign up here or email firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about Strangles Awareness Week, the Temperature Check Challenge and other ways to get involved, please follow the SAW Facebook page or go to www.redwings.org.uk/strangles/strangles-awareness-week
* Normal range varies, and we hope the Temperature Check Challenge will contribute to greater consistency in the message about healthy normal range.