A large animal veterinarian in north Florida has confirmed four cases of Pigeon Fever in Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Pigeon Fever is an infection caused by the bacteria, Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis. There are three 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. This form causes swelling resembling a pigeon’s breast in the horse’s chest. 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. North Florida is still experiencing a moderate to severe drought making conditions favorable for an outbreak.
Symptoms to look for include external abscesses, fever, severe lameness, decreased appetite, and lethargy. Dr. Reese Williamson, a large animal veterinarian who practices in Okaloosa and Walton Counties, advises if a horse has a fever above 102°F, goes off feed or is excessively lame, contact a veterinarian promptly. 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. It is recommended to isolate infected horses and dispose of contaminated bedding. Decrease fly populations by using fly sprays, feed-through fly control, fly parasites or adult fly traps.
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>.
Jennifer Bearden is an Agriculture Agent with the University of Florida IFAS Okaloosa County Extension.