Horse-owners are on high alert after a reported outbreak of a potentially fatal disease in the Furness area.

A warning has been issued after a case of strangles disease – a highly contagious respiratory infection that kills scores of equines in the UK each year – was reported in south Cumbria.

The case is believed to be an isolated outbreak limited to the Furness area.

Strangles is one of the most common diseases diagnosed in horses worldwide.

It is a highly contagious and debilitating disease that can affect any horse, on any yard, at any time.

Symptoms include: a high temperature above 38.5°C; lethargy; reluctance to eat or drink; difficulty swallowing and a lowered head and neck; a cough; thick and discoloured nasal discharge; and swelling of the glands under the jaw which may lead to abscesses

The abscesses which cause the lymph nodes to swell can burst, discharging highly infectious, thick, creamy-yellow pus. In some cases the glands swell so much they restrict the airway – hence the name strangles.

The chair of Ulverston District Equine Club is urging horse and pony owners to remain vigilant of the disease.

“It’s a contact disease which is always around,” she said.

“It’s a danger in that it can spread very quickly and be serious in some cases involving older, more vulnerable horses.

“Usually it can be treated with medication as well as veterinary input.

“I’ve only heard about one case at the moment but one is enough.

“If everyone manages to contain their horses, hopefully we can isolate the outbreak. It’s a godsend that there are no shows at the moment where infections can spread very easily.

“We’re not sure where this case came from or how it came into the area but the main thing is keeping horses and ponies safe.”

If you suspect your horse has strangles disease: isolate the horse and any other horses that have had direct contact; call your vet out for advice and to examine the horse showing signs; contact owners of the affected horse and owners of all other horses on the yard – the yard should be on lockdown – check horses' temperatures at least twice a day; and let people know about the outbreak.