Pigeon Fever in Horses Causes Symptoms and Treatments

Pigeon Fever in Horses – Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments

by | Jun 20, 2023 | Equine Health, Equine Treatment

The equine community is occasionally beset by various infectious diseases, one of them being Pigeon Fever. This disease, despite its quirky name, poses a significant risk to horses and their well-being. Pigeon Fever is not as well-known as colic or laminitis, but it’s no less important to understand, identify, and treat. It can cause serious discomfort to our four-legged friends and could even escalate to severe health complications if left unchecked.

This article aims to explore what Pigeon Fever is, how it affects horses, how it spreads, the typical symptoms, and treatment options available. An educated horse owner is a horse’s best defense against this disease. It’s time to equip ourselves with the necessary knowledge to better safeguard our horses.

Understanding Pigeon Fever in Horses

Pigeon Fever, scientifically known as Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis infection, is an infectious disease that primarily affects horses, although it can also occur in other animals. The disease derives its name from the characteristic swelling seen in the horse’s chest, resembling a pigeon’s breast.Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis, the bacterium causing Pigeon Fever, is an external parasite that thrives in dry, dusty environments. The bacteria is quite resilient and can survive in severe weather conditions, increasing the risk of horses contracting the disease.

In horses, Pigeon Fever can manifest in three ways: external abscesses, internal abscesses, or ulcerative lymphangitis. The most common form is external abscesses, where the bacteria cause pus-filled swellings usually on the horse’s chest or belly.The horse’s immune system plays a significant role in how the disease manifests itself. If the horse has a strong immune system, it might exhibit minor symptoms or even be asymptomatic. Immune support supplements like the “Vita Flex E-5000 Immune Support” can help boost a horse’s immunity, reducing the severity of the disease.

How Pigeon Fever is Transmitted Among Horses

The transmission of Pigeon Fever among horses is predominantly through flies, particularly the horsefly. The bacteria can survive in the soil and dust for extended periods, where they can be picked up by the flies, which then transmit it to the horses. The flies are particularly attracted to the wound and sweaty areas of horses, explaining why the abscesses are often located on the chest and underbelly.

Environmental factors can facilitate the spread of Pigeon Fever. Arid and dusty conditions, which are common in the late summer and autumn, make it easy for the bacteria to spread. Good stable and pasture management can help reduce the spread of Pigeon Fever. An effective fly control strategy is essential in limiting the disease’s transmission. Using reliable fly repellents like “Farnam Endure Sweat-Resistant Fly Spray for Horses” can help keep flies at bay.

Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Pigeon Fever in Horses

Recognizing the symptoms of Pigeon Fever is crucial for early detection and treatment. Symptoms can vary based on the form of the disease but primarily include the presence of abscesses.

In the external abscesses form, the most common signs are swelling or lumps on the chest, midline, or groin area. The swellings are often painful to the touch, and may eventually rupture, releasing pus. Fever, lameness, and reluctance to move are also common.
In the case of internal abscesses, the symptoms can be more elusive. They might include long-term fever, weight loss, and behavioral changes, which warrant a thorough veterinary examination.

The ulcerative lymphangitis form may cause severe swelling of a limb, accompanied by multiple sores or ulcers leaking pus.
A high-quality, accurate thermometer like the “Ideal Digital Thermometer” is an essential tool for any horse owner, helping in early detection of fever, a common symptom in many horse diseases including Pigeon Fever.
In all these scenarios, consulting a veterinarian as soon as possible is crucial. They will typically confirm the diagnosis through bacterial culture of the pus or blood tests.

Video showing Abscess being drained *WARNING GRAPHIC*

Treatment Options for Horses Infected with Pigeon Fever

Pigeon Fever is generally self-limiting and resolves over time, but the discomfort and potential for complications necessitate treatment. The mainstay of treatment involves the management of abscesses which can entail hot compresses to facilitate rupture and drainage. After rupture, abscesses are typically cleaned and flushed regularly to expedite healing.

In some severe cases, veterinarians might use ultrasound-guided techniques to drain internal abscesses. Although the use of antibiotics is somewhat controversial due to concerns of resistance, they may be prescribed in severe cases or for internal abscesses.

Pain management is another critical component of treating Pigeon Fever. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like phenylbutazone, are often prescribed to manage pain and inflammation.

Probiotics, like “Probios Dispersible Powder”, can be used alongside antibiotics to maintain gut health. Also, vitamin C and zinc supplements may be recommended to bolster the horse’s immune system and speed up recovery.

Best Practices for Preventing Pigeon Fever in Horses

Prevention is better than cure, and that certainly rings true for Pigeon Fever. First and foremost, an effective fly control program is crucial. Regular use of fly repellents, like “Farnam Endure Sweat-Resistant Fly Spray for Horses”, and the installation of fly traps around your barn, can help minimize the risk of infection.Hygiene is another key factor in prevention. Regular cleaning of the stables and disposing of manure correctly helps reduce the flies that spread the bacteria.

For horses that have contracted the disease, isolate them from other horses until they’re completely recovered to prevent the disease’s spread. Regular veterinary check-ups are also essential for early detection. Always ensure that you have a good-quality stethoscope, like the “3M Littmann Classic III Stethoscope”, for basic health checks.


Pigeon Fever in horses, though often overlooked, is a substantial equine health issue. Understanding its causes, recognizing its symptoms, and knowing its treatments can go a long way in managing this disease. It’s also imperative to remember that a little prevention, through effective fly control and good hygiene practices, can keep the disease at bay.

The horse world thrives on shared knowledge. Thus, let’s continue to enlighten each other about such health issues, so every horse owner, stable manager, and equine enthusiast can provide the best possible care for our equine friends. After all, they deserve nothing less than our full attention, love, and commitment. Together, we can make the equine community a safer place for these magnificent creatures.

About The Author

<a href="https://www.equiniction.com/author/issabella-m/" target="_self">Issabella Mitchel</a>

Issabella Mitchel

Isabella is a remarkable equestrian and racehorse trainer, hailing from the horse capital of the world, Kentucky. Growing up in the heart of bluegrass country, she developed a deep affinity for horses from an early age.

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