The Seattle Times is reporting today that cases of pigeon fever in horses are on the rise this fall in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Northern California.
Pigeon fever–also called pigeon chest, false strangles, dryland distemper or Wyoming strangles–is a contagious equine disease that is caused by a bacterium Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis. Veterinarians warn that human contact may help spread the disease from horse to horse.
Characteristics of the disease are unusual swelling on the horse’s body, especially on the abdomen or chest, giving the horse the appearance of having a plump breast like a bird’s–hence, the name. Abscesses filled with white or green pus form and the disease requires considerable care for hygiene.
The Seattle newspaper article has good advice for horse owners. Dr. Christi Garkinkel, a horse vet in El Cajon, California, has an excellent fact sheet on pigeon fever in her web archives.
To learn more: a good reference book to have on hand in this age of equine disease is Color Atlas of Diseases and Disorders of the Horse by veterinarians Derek Knottenbelt and Reg Pascoe. It has photos on every page to show symptoms or pathology and is easy to navigate. My copy is well-thumbed! Your local independent bookstore will be happy to special-order a copy for you, I’m sure, or check the bookstore at your regional veterinary college!