The results of a Redwings survey assessing awareness of strangles in horse owners have revealed that while most horse owners* are aware of the disease and eager for it be a priority in the UK only a small percentage of yards have screening protocols for new arrivals in place.
The published results follow a presentation at yesterday's National Equine Fourm in London and are based on Redwings Horse Sanctuary's survey of over 2,000 horse owners in an attempt to assess awareness of strangles, attitudes towards the disease and biosecurity practices.
Responses to questions throughout the survey showed an interest and willingness from horse owners to improve biosecurity. Over 90% of respondents believed strangles should be more of a priority in the UK and, indeed, among the horse owners that took part understanding of the disease and awareness of the symptoms were good with 92.5% correctly identifying fever and 96.0% identifying the classic (albeit later) nasal discharge as clinical signs of strangles. Further, 46.0% of respondents had personal experience of strangles; 46.1% of whom reported the case was confirmed by a vet.
Despite this awareness and eagerness for strangles to be a priority, only 13% of respondents who kept their horses at a livery yard had their horse screened for strangles on arrival and 74.8% said their yard did not have a screening protocol for new arrivals at all.
This lack of screening does not seem to be because horse owners are not willing to follow the protocol, however; 50.8% said they were ‘very likely’ and a further 28.8% said they were ‘likely’ to use a yard that had strangles testing for new arrivals.
Not only did the survey reveal that there is a demand among horse owners for livery yards to introduce screening protocols, but also nearly 80% of respondents said they would be prepared to prove their horse was not a ‘silent carrier’ (that is, carrying the disease without showing any clinical symptoms either as a result of previous infection or contact with another infected horse) by paying for screening should their yard introduce biosecurity measures.
As well as identifying this demand among horse owners for improved biosecurity at their yards and willingness to invest in screening, the survey did reveal that some myths and negative attitudes towards strangles continue to exist. In a list of true or false statements, over a third (36.0%) respondents thought strangles was ‘an airborne disease like flu’ – a misconception that the charity believes hampers owners’ perception of being able to prevent the disease; strangles is spread through direct contact with an infected animal or infected material.
Similarly, during scenario-style questions, the responses from those who did not have previous experience of strangles veered towards the more pessimistic – the attitude largely being that strangles is a ‘life-threatening disease’ and something that was ‘difficult to treat’. Those with experience of the disease tended to be more pragmatic about its prevention and management.
However, even when taken as a whole, a large proportion of respondents felt that ‘it was not possible’ to eradicate strangles in the UK – 35.5% party agreed and 13.8% completely agreed with this statement. And worryingly, 16.6% respondents said one of the ‘main reasons’ they do not take more steps to prevent strangles was because they believed it ‘is not possible to prevent strangles/it is just something that happens’.
“It is not only strangles that we need to stamp out,” reflected survey pioneer and Redwings’ Education and Campaigns Manager Andie Vilela, “but the attitudes and perceptions towards the disease that prevent or undermine motivation for horse owners to act.
“Nonetheless, the number of people willing to take part in this survey and the fact that 43% respondents reported experience of strangles is incredibly encouraging and shows that owners are willing to speak out – something we at Redwings believe essential to remove the stigma surrounding the disease.
“With this valuable data, I have real confidence in the next stage of our ‘Stamp out strangles’ campaign to make real progress by increasing owner awareness, improving biosecurity measures and eradicating the disease among the UK horse population. I believe the key to achieve this is more screening on yards and for carriers to be cleared of the disease.”
*Of the 2,000+ horse owners surveyed
Get your Redwings Strangles Pack
Redwings’ free strangles information and prevention pack for yards and horse owners can be downloaded via the charity’s website - www.redwings.org.uk. Alternatively the pack can be requested in hard copy, including quarantine posters, by emailing email@example.com