CSU warns of pigeon fever

Aug 21, 2009
by WLJ
CSU warns of pigeon fever

Equine owners should be extra vigilant for signs of pigeon fever in their horses, according to Colorado State University(CSU) veterinarians at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. A spike in reported cases of this infectious disease has been reported in the northern Front Range of Colorado.

This highly contagious disease is also called pigeon breast, breastbone fever, false strangles, dryland strangles or dryland distemper. Signs of pigeon fever can initially resemble those of other diseases such as strangles. Sometimes the only initial signs are lameness and a reluctance to move. Other signs include lameness, fever, lethargy and weight loss. The disease, which can be fatal, is caused by bacteria called Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis. The bacteria live in the soil and can enter the animal’s body through wounds, broken skin or mucous membranes.

Research also indicates that the disease may be spread through flies, especially cattle horn flies. These are biting flies that tend to feed under the belly of the horse.

The flies transmit the bacteria from horse to horse when they have been in contact with pus draining from abscesses. Bacteria in drained puss can survive up to 55 days in the environment.

Any horse showing signs of pigeon fever should be isolated to prevent spread to other animals. Areas where infected horses are held must be properly cleaned and completely disinfected.

The disease is treated with hot packs or poultices that are applied to abscesses. Open abscesses are drained and regularly flushed with saline. Veterinarians may need to lance deep abscesses. Veterinarians will also prescribe antiinflammatory drugs to control swelling and pain and sometimes, an antibiotic will be prescribed. Antibiotic usage before the abscesses have been drained may prolong the course of the disease.

Horses with the disease usually recover within a few weeks with proper treatment. If caught early and treated properly, horses usually make a complete recovery, although the disease may recur in some horses. — WLJ