Pigeon fever is the common term for an infection caused by the bacterial organism Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis which can form abscesses in the pectoral region and ventral abdomen of the horse. The condition is not related to pigeons. The abscesses cause swelling and give the horse a "pigeon-breast" appearance. The illness is also known as dry-land strangles.
Cross-species transmission usually occurs only between horses and cattle because they can carry the same strain of bacterium. The bacterium rarely infects humans.
There are three recognized forms of the disease in horses: external abscesses, internal abscesses and ulcerative lymphangitis.
Horse owners should contact their veterinarians if they suspect pigeon fever so a definitive diagnosis can be made through bacterial culture.
There is no vaccination to protect horses against pigeon fever.
Treatment usually consists of having a licensed veterinarian surgically open the abscess to allow drainage. Affected horses should be isolated because draining bacteria from the abscess will contaminate the stall or pen.
Horses, especially ones with open wounds, should be sprayed with fly repellent to prevent spread of the bacteria by flies. Humans can carry the bacteria on shoes, hands, etc., so it is necessary to maintain good hygiene and bio-security after handling sick horses.
Basic hygienic and bio-security measures include thorough hand washing after touching each horse and wearing gloves when treating sick horses. Medical professionals and other handlers should change clothes and sanitize shoes after treating sick horses before moving on to healthy horses.
Bedding, water buckets and any other materials that come in contact with pus should be disinfected or discarded and never used with other horses.
Non-porous surfaces like stall mats and walls may be disinfected with bleach. However, pouring bleach or disinfectants on the stall's dirt floors or over manure is not effective.
Call your veterinarian for more information on this disease.