Pigeon Fever Reported in Southern Alberta, Canada

Pigeon Fever Reported in Southern Alberta, Canada

Pigeon fever often produces mild fever and pectoral abscesses that give an appearance similar to a pigeon's protruding breast.

Photo: Sharon Spier, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM

Veterinarians have recently diagnosed more than 10 horses residing in southern Alberta, Canada, with pigeon fever (Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis infection), according to a health alert from Equine Canada. 

Traditionally diagnosed in horses residing in the western United States, pigeon fever—also known as dryland distemper—incidence has increased considerably in other regions, including the Midwest, over the past decade.

Researchers believe the soil-dwelling C. pseudotuberculosis gains access to horses' bodies through abrasions or wounds on the skin or mucous membranes, and studies have shown that many insects—including the horn fly, the house fly, and the stable fly—can transmit the disease.

Pigeon fever often produces mild fever and pectoral abscesses that give an appearance similar to a pigeon's protruding breast. Less commonly, the condition can produce deep abscesses in a horse's lungs, kidneys, or liver, or the disease can manifest as an infection of the limbs, termed ulcerative lymphangitis.

Treatment for external abscesses is relatively easy and involves a veterinarian lancing and draining the abscess. Owners must also practice good hygiene to avoid further infection. In severe cases veterinarians might employ antimicrobial medications to treat internal abscesses and ulcerative lymphangitis. Many affected horses recover.

There is no vaccination to protect horses against pigeon fever, so veterinarians recommend owners in endemic areas practice good fly control and sanitation practices to reduce horses' risk of infection.

About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, News Editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in three-day eventing with her OTTB, Dorado, and enjoys photography in her spare time.

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