Recently, at least 4 cases of pigeon fever have been confirmed by a local large animal veterinarian. Pigeon Fever is an infection caused by the bacteria, Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis. There are 3 forms of this disease: external abscesses, internal infection, ulcerative lymphangitis (limb infections). The most common form is external abscesses of the pectoral or ventral abdomen causing swelling in the horse’s chest, resembling that of a pigeon’s breast. The disease is spread via flies, such as horn flies, stable flies, and houseflies. It can also be spread by horse-to-horse contact and through contaminated soils.
Pigeon Fever is sometimes called Dryland distemper because it frequently occurs in the western United States. Drought conditions seem to encourage outbreaks of this disease. Our area is still experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions making conditions favorable for an outbreak.
Symptoms to look for include external abscesses, fever, excessive lameness, decrease appetite, and lethargy. Dr. Reese Williamson advises if you have a horse with a fever above 102°F or goes off feed or is excessively lame, call a veterinarian. Treatment must be individualized for the horse, the form of disease and the locations of the abscesses.
Since no vaccine currently exists, the only prevention is fly control, good sanitation and proper wound care. Isolate infected horses. Dispose of contaminated bedding. Use fly sprays, feed through fly control, fly parasites or adult fly traps to decrease fly populations. Proper wound care of all horses is important. An open wound is an easy way for the bacteria to enter and infect the horse. Clean wounds carefully and use products such as fly repellent ointment on wounds.
Spier, Sharon. “Three Forms of Pigeon Fever.” The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care July (2010). Web. 17 Apr. 2012. <http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=17663>.