Drought Exacerbates Horse Disease

Pigeon Fever, a highly contagious bacterial disease affecting horses, may be on the rise this year in the wake of droughts across the South and Southwest.

Pigeon Fever is a potentially fatal and highly contagious disease caused by the Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis. The disease is known as Pigeon Fever because it can lead to the development of large abscesses, both internal and external, in the chest and abdomen, giving horses a pigeon-breasted look. Pigeon Fever was first reported in 1915 in California. While it has spread outside of the state, it appears to crop up in the hot, arid climate of the West and Southwest, recently spreading to Louisiana and Florida because of local droughts.

While there is some disagreement about the root cause of the disease’s spread, most veterinary scientists agree that the pathogenic bacteria is present nationwide and that dry conditions create dust, giving the bacteria an easy path to infect scratches and small wounds.

The abscesses caused by Pigeon Fever can often be quite deep and frequently require ultrasounds to determine the depth and seriousness. The abscesses’ thick walls often make them resistant to antibiotics, meaning that the best treatment is usually lancing and draining infected areas. While the external abscesses are rarely fatal, internal abscesses can lead to serious medical complications and are often fatal even with treatment.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer