Missouri horse owners warned to watch for disease

A horse with Pigeon Fever. © University of Florida
A horse with Pigeon Fever. © University of Florida

Horse owners in Missouri are being warned to watch for a disease that is uncommon in the state, but has spiked because of the long summer drought.

Philip Johnson, a professor of equine medicine and surgery in the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says he has seen a big increase in the number of Missouri horses infected with Pigeon Fever, or Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis, a bacterial infection that can cause painful swelling, abscesses and inflammation in the legs, chests, and abdominal cavities.

The disease is also known as Pigeon breast, False strangles, and Dry land distemper.

“Under normal conditions, this disease is uncommon in Missouri,” Johnson said.

“Likely because of the extremely dry weather Missouri has experienced in the last six months, we have seen an abnormally large number of cases pop up throughout the state.

“The disease is contracted through abrasions in the skin, as well as by bites from flies and ticks.”

Johnson says that horse owners should keep a wary eye on their horses for swelling in their chests or swollen abscesses and sores on their legs.

He says infected horses may also show behavioral signs of sickness such as lethargy, depression and loss of appetite.

Philip Johnson
Philip Johnson

If an infection is left unattended for too long, it could result in lameness and even death if the infection moves into internal organs.

“It is very important for horse owners to monitor their horses’ health carefully,” Johnson said.

“They should call their veterinarians as soon as they see any potential sign of infection, so that the veterinarians can accurately diagnose the condition. The earlier the infection is detected, the easier and more effective the treatment will be.”

Johnson also recommends that owners quarantine any horses they believe might be infected, as draining abscesses can spread the disease to healthy horses. He says that treatment typically involves draining any abscesses close to the surface of the skin and allowing them to heal.

He recommends the use of antibiotics only if the abscesses are deeper under the skin or if the infection has moved to the internal organs of the horse.


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