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Halifax Regional Police horse diagnosed with strangles

Const. Chris Marinelli with Halifax Regional Police rides Sarge during the 2006 Pride Parade. Sarge has contracted strangles, an equine infection that is like strep-throat, and has been quarantined. INGRID BULMER • FILE
Const. Chris Marinelli with Halifax Regional Police rides Sarge during the 2006 Pride Parade. Sarge has contracted strangles, an equine infection that is like strep-throat, and has been quarantined. INGRID BULMER • FILE - -File photo

A bacterial infection has sparked a quarantine at a Halifax horse stable and has taken two popular equine police officers off the street.

Sarge, a 17-year-old Clydesdale thoroughbred cross, started showing symptoms of the respiratory infection commonly known as strangles last Wednesday.

“His head was a little down, he just wasn’t himself,” said Const. Dave Gallivan of the Halifax Regional Police mounted unit, in an interview Tuesday.

A temperature check showed Sarge was running a high fever and the veterinarian called in concluded it was strangles, a highly contagious upper respiratory tract infection that only affects horses.

The disease, also known as equine distemper, can be spread by an infected animal when nasal discharge or pus from draining lymph nodes contaminates pastures, feed troughs, brushes, bedding and tack. Most horses recover but the infection has a mortality rate of about eight per cent.

Besides fatigue and fever, Sarge has had mucus discharge from his nostrils and was showing signs of throat pain, Gallivan said.

“It’s almost like strep throat (in a person).”

It’s not clear exactly how Sarge contracted the infection. Besides contamination in pastures and feed, Gallivan said it can be transmitted to a horse from a human who has been in contact with another infected animal.

Sarge and the other HRP mounted unit horse, Valour, have both been quarantined as part of the strangles response at the Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers club on Bell Road, where they’re housed.

The club has quarantined its stables and temporarily suspended operations. In a Facebook post the club said only the one horse has shown signs of infection.

“All staff are following strict disinfection protocols,” the post said. “Most of our horses remain healthy, and we are doing everything in our power to keep it that way. Our stables are under quarantine and closed to members and public until further notice. You may see horses being exercised by Lancer’s staff but this is not part of the normal recreational programs we provide.

“As there have been other confirmed cases of Strangles in N.S., N.B. and P.E.I., all horses on our property have been restricted from leaving the premises since the initial onset of (very mild) symptoms. We have been working closely with our veterinarians to ensure we are following all recommended bio-security precautions in order to prevent any further spread of this disease.”

Meanwhile, Sarge appears to be slowly bouncing back from the infection, Gallivan said, and so far Valour, a Percheron, hasn’t shown any symptoms.

The constable passed on the unit’s appreciation for the concern they’ve heard about Sarge’s illness, particularly on social media sites. The horse has been part of the HRP mounted unit since 2006.

“There’s been a lot of support and get-well wishes on our Twitter account and I just wanted to thank the public for that,” he said.

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