What is Pigeon Fever?

Pigeon Fever had traditionally plagued horses in the West, however it has become an emerging disease in our area these past few years. It is caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis that typically forms subcutaneous abscesses often in the pectoral area. Abscesses can also occur on the lower abdomen, axillary, and inguinal areas. Much less commonly, it can also cause internal abscesses, inflammation of lymphatics in lower limbs, and folliculitis.

The bacteria gains access to the body most commonly through abrasions or wounds on the skin, and many insects can aid in transmission. It also has special properties that allow it to easily enter the lymphatic system and spread to lymph nodes. Once infected, it takes 3 to 4 weeks before horses develop signs of disease. Pigeon Fever is not contagious between horses, however the abscesses are a source for environmental contamination.

Diagnosis is made by through clinical signs and culture of the abscess. Treatment focuses on eliminating the purulent discharge from the abscess as well as pain management. With external abscesses, antibiotic use is controversial, however it is important to remember that beginning antibiotic administration before an abscess has opened may delay it in doing so which will prolong resolution of the disease.

If you suspect your horse has Pigeon Fever, you should make a appointment with your veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. Unfortunately, once infection is established on a farm, it is much more likely to occur again. Below are a few suggestions for preventing further disease on your farm.

1. Once drainage of the abscess is established, isolate the infected animal
2. Practice good sanitation and disposal of drainage material as well as contaminated materials. Luckily, the bacteria is susceptible to most disinfectants.
3. Provide good insect control