Mythbuster Monday: Strangles Lives on Surfaces for Months

On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Does Strangles live on surfaces for months?

It’s Mythbuster Monday, where Horse Nation dives into different equestrian myths and provides research-based evidence to either bust or confirm those myths. Today’s topic: Does Strangles live on surfaces for months? Can a horse get infected weeks and months after all horses are asymptomatic? Does Strangles stay alive on fence posts and pasture? Read further to find out!

Myth: Strangles lives on surfaces for months

Myth or Fact: Myth


Streptococcus equi infection, also known as Strangles, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that presents itself in horses with high fevers, appetite loss, depression and enlargement of the lymph nodes between the jawbones. Horses who have tested positive for Strangles may drain large amounts of thick yellow pus from the nostrils and, if severe enough, the horse’s lymph nodes may abscess in the throat and break open to drain.

The nickname for the infection, Strangles,  comes from the “strangling” noise produced by horses who are severely affected when the horse struggles to breathe due to the obstructed airway. While this information can be alarming, most horses make a full recovery from the infection.

Exposure to Strangles often occurs when a horse who’s been exposed and has no visible signs of the sickness is put out with the herd. Horses can be asymptomatic up to two weeks after exposure and even then some horses may only have a low grade fever. Through direct contact, such as touching muzzles or sharing equipment, the infection spreads from horse to horse.

But does it last on surfaces that long?


According to an article by Equus Magazine, Strangles researcher John Timoney, PhD, FRCVS, states the the organism survives in the pasture and farm for days rather than weeks. The only time he’s seen the infection live for weeks is in a frozen, isolated environment. Strangles is a poor survivor in the environment and competes poorly with other types of bacteria. While the infection does not live long on surfaces, if there is an outbreak at your farm, be diligent about isolating sick horses as the bacterium is easily carried from horse to horse.


The Paulick Report also shared an article on Strangles stating there is a significant amount of misinformation surrounding the illness and how it is spread. They state the disease is only spread by direct contact between horses and objects that are mutually used between different horses, such as water buckets and halters. However, they also note that the disease does not survive well in an outdoor environment or in soil.


Horse Illustrated published an article that gives their professional outlook on Strangles exposure. They make a clear statement that Strangles is not spread through air. It is only spread by direct contact such as snotty noses, soiled human hands and/or mucous-covered shirt sleeves. In their article they state that contrary to common belief, Strangles does not persist in manure or on the ground.


Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine wrote that Strangles bacteria can only survive for 1-3 days on dry surfaces such as fencing and soil and again that the illness is mostly transmitted by nose-to-nose contact with a contaminated horse. They also bring up an interesting point about quarantining infected horses from other horses as well as the barn cat or dog that wanders around. Other farm animals can pick up the bacteria on their coats and spread it to other horses.


After diving into the research, Strangles bacteria can only live on surfaces for a few days. The mode of transmission between horses is by direct contact with the horse or sharing items between horses. Another possible way other horses can be infected is by direct contact with the barn cat or dog after an infected horse had contact with her. The infection is not spread by airborne particles and does not live on surfaces for months.

Do you have an equine myth you’d like us to tackle? If so, send it our way! Email your suggestions to [email protected]. Put Mythbuster Monday in your subject line.