Strangles Cases Force RCMP Horses to Play Musical Chairs

Music might be an outburst of the soul (Frederick Delius) but strangles is an outburst of a horse's lymph nodes, and when you put the two together it amounts to many disappointed fans of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's (RCMP's) famed Musical Ride.

Equine strangles is a highly infectious disease of horses caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi that causes a thick, greenish nasal discharge, increased body temperatures, decreased appetites, and enlarged lymph nodes that ultimately abscess.

According to Sergeant-Major Bill Stewart, riding master for the RCMP, one mare developed typical yet mild signs consistent with strangles on June 25 while on tour in the eastern Canadian provinces including Quebec and Ontario. This mare ultimately tested positive for strangles.

Seven other horses developed mild elevations in body temperature, lethargy, and decreased appetites.

The horses promptly returned to their 96-stall stable located in Ottawa, Ontario, to avoid spreading the disease. Horses showing signs of strangles were aggressively monitored and treated with antibiotics.

"All of the RCMP horses were immediately isolated and all regularly scheduled barn tours have been cancelled until further notice," relayed Stewart.

Of the 36 horses that were part of the RCMP Musical Ride tour, only the one mare ultimately tested positive. Nonetheless, all of the tour horses were swabbed two separate times and all swabs from all horses came back negative for strangles.

As an added precaution, a third swab was scheduled for July 3. Presuming the third set of swabs was also negative, the Musical Ride tour has been rescheduled to resume July 23 in the western provinces.

The seven horses initially suspected of also having strangles recovered uneventfully. Stewart indicated that the RCMP's commissioned veterinarian and the co-operating veterinarians from the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph and the Gluck Equine Research Center in Lexington, Ky., suspect stress ultimately contributed to the signs noted in the other seven horses.

These seven horses are anticipated to rejoin the tour, but will continue to be monitored to ensure they are fit to tour.

Missing the Depot 125 Anniversary in Regina, Spruce Meadows, and the Calgary Stampede is a disappointing turn of events for the fans and RCMP alike; however, Stewart added, "We really do take this seriously. This is the first time in my 35 years with the RCMP that we have had to cancel a tour but we believe that ethically we need to keep the horses at home [to minimize spread of the disease]."

Interestingly, all of the RCMP horses had all been vaccinated for strangles in mid-February 2010 prior to commencing their spring tour. Since diagnosing strangles in the one mare, all horses have subsequently been boosted again.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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