MU veterinarian reports rise in equine pigeon fever

Nov 14, 2012

The lengthy drought this past summer in Missouri not only affected crops, but it's affecting horses, too.

Missouri’s drought caused a large spike in a rare horse infection. Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis, or pigeon fever, is most commonly reported in warm, dry areas and breeds in the soil.

University of Missouri equine veterinarian Philip Johnson said signs of the infection include abscesses under the skin, loss of appetite and inflammation on the legs and the abdominal region. He said if treated properly, the disease is not lethal.

“So, probably it gets into the horse’s system through either an abrasion of the skin, or perhaps a result of damage to the skin through biting flies or tics,” Johnson said.

Johnson said records are not kept on the average number of infections. And in the past 20 years, he has never seen more than a single case per year in Missouri. But this year, he has seen more than 30. He said horse owners must watch for symptoms carefully.

“If they see a swelling or inflammation developing in the skin on the horse, call the veterinarian,” Johnson said.

To prevent the disease, Johnson recommends reducing the number of flies around the horse’s environment and keeping any affected horses segregated.