Skip to Navigation Skip to Main Content

Eddie Baggs: Pigeon fever new horse problem in Denton County

Seems there has been an outbreak of pigeon fever throughout the horse population in Denton County. 

Local veterinarians state that they haven't seen a single case in years and now in the last couple of months, it seems there are one to two cases a week being reported.

Pigeon fever - also known as pigeon breast, dry land distemper and Colorado strangles - is unpredictable and contagious.

It gets its name due to the abscess lumps that often appear on the pectorals, making the horse look like it has a pigeon's breast. It is caused by bacteria called Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis.

It is thought that the bacteria enters through skin abrasions and insect bites. 

It can also be spread through horse to horse contact, horse to cow contact, through the soil or through a break in the skin. 

Pigeon fever is more common in dryer climates and is  prevalent in California, but in recent years has been spreading northward.  This disease, when introduced into a conducive environment, becomes difficult to eliminate, resulting in unpredictable future outbreaks. 

Rarely is this disease fatal, but recovery can take months and the disease can reoccur. It also seems that horses kept outdoors tend to be at higher risk than stabled horses.

There is no vaccine for this disease, so if a horse contracts pigeon fever, the course of action is to prevent the spread of the infection to other horses.

Any time the abscess breaks open, there is a risk of the puss spreading the disease.

Precautions should be taken to clean up the fluids in the stall or pen, or ground where the horse was treated.

Limiting any type of area contamination will help prevent the spread, but remember the bacteria lives in the soil and probably will never be eliminated completely once introduced in an area. 

Early diagnosis is key, so if you suspect your horse is a carrier for pigeon fever, consult your veterinarian.

EDDIE BAGGS, extension agent with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Denton County, can be reached at 940-349-2880.