Pigeon fever in horses

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Interview with Dr. Tamara GullGull photo

Pigeon fever in horses is on the rise in Oklahoma. It is an infection by a bacterium that results in abscess formation in the chest area, between the front legs of the horse causing swelling of the chest, and hence the term “pigeon fever”.

In the past, this disease was very uncommon in Oklahoma and restricted mostly to California, but it’s becoming much more common here. How it is spread is not fully understood, but it seems to be associated with dry, dusty drought conditions and may be spread by flies.

When these abscesses develop externally in the chest area, Veterinarians treat them by lancing the abscesses, allowing them to drain. Antibiotics may or may not be needed. In some cases however, these abscesses can be internal and much more serious, resulting in fever, colic, weight loss and even death. An ultrasound examination can detect internal abscesses and a blood test can help diagnose this disease.

Contact your veterinarian if you notice any kind of abscess in the chest region of your horse or other signs of general illness.