I’ve been lucky enough to work with an equine veterinarian seeing emergencies on the weekends throughout the summer — and even now that I’m back in school. On my last on-call weekend, I pulled in and he was waiting for me already with a call sheet in hand. The patient was a horse that had had strangles on and off for the last year.
We arrived not knowing what to expect. We feared it could be a more severe infection, because it was unresolved after such a long time. However, when we saw the horse, it seemed remarkably alert and bright. We noted some open sores under the jaw, which were the presumed strangles lesions. The physical exam was fairly normal, which was surprising since we were expecting to possibly see a fever, signs of systemic illness, etc.
It was then that the veterinarian took a second look at the lesions, which were the main reason we’d been called out. He noticed that while they were a little bloody, there was no pus present, which is characteristic of strangles. In addition, he started looking at the surrounding skin and noted how thickened and black it was. We then palpated the lesions, and the vet realized they were more characteristic of a tumor called a sarcoid. In the end, the owner elected not to treat the sarcoids because they weren’t life threatening, but he agreed to remove the horse’s halter whenever possible so the bottom of the halter wouldn’t irritate the area as much.
As we left, I was struck by how I would have assumed it was strangles given the signalment and the fact that the horse hadn’t been vaccinated. I learned a valuable lesson: don’t jump to conclusions when making a diagnosis!