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The British Horse Society has received reports of an outbreak of strangles in Cumbria.

Strangles, a bacterial infection of the equine lymph gland, which results in a restriction of the horse’s airway, is highly infectious spreading through direct contact with infected mucus.

While cases in the county await to be officially confirmed, vets are asking owners to be extra vigilant for warning signs of the disease.

The BHS advises that anyone coming into contact with infected animals should change their clothes and footwear, and preferably take a shower, before handling uninfected animals.

BHS acting head of welfare, Helen Owens, adds: “Strangles can be very distressing for the animal and owner. The disease is highly contagious, and with several indoor shows taking place over the Christmas break, owners and carers should be extra vigilant and carry out good hygiene practices.

“If owners are concerned about their horses they should contact their vet immediately.”

Treatment of strangles tends to suppress rather than eliminate symptoms, so horses will not usually receive actual treatment. Infected animals require careful supervision, and their food and water intake must be closely monitored.

Although it is rare for an adult horse to die as a result of strangles, it can be fatal in foals, which do not have fully developed immune systems.