Last Updated on March 29, 2022 by Allison Price
Pigeon Fever (False Strangles)
Horses can contract lymphangitis from infection with Corynebacterium fauxtuberculosis bacteria. The bacteria can enter through skin injuries such as insect bites or injections. This condition is often called pigeon flu, false strangles or pigeon breast. It can also be called dry land distemper, pigeon breast and ulcerative lymphangitis. There are three ways to recognize the infection: it can present as small lumps or sores on the lower extremities (ulcerative Lympangitis), inflamed, pus-filled sores on your chest and abdomen (abscesses), and abscesses in the internal organs. This is a common infection in horses in California and Texas. It is also becoming more common in the midwest and western states. These areas are subject to seasonal infections, with the peak occurring in fall and summer.
Pigeon fever can cause sores and nodules on the legs, especially in the fetlock.
The signs of ulcerative lymphangitis due to pigeon fever appear slowly. They may include pain, swellings or lumps (nodules), as well as slow-healing sores on the fetlock. Sometimes, the swelling can spread to the entire limb and cause lameness. The discharge is thick, thin, tan and blood-tinged. It usually affects one leg. The condition can become chronic if it isn’t treated promptly.
The infection can also lead to pus-filled sores (abscesses), on the lower abdomen and chest. Internal organs can also be affected by the infection. The signs include swellings of the lower abdomen that are widespread or localized, fluid accumulation and inflammation, lameness, pain in the legs, fever, weight loss and depression. A rise in white blood cell count may also be present. An increase in white blood cells, a prolonged fever or a refusal to eat could indicate problems such as internal abscesses or deep and recurring infections. Internal infections may also cause a recurring or severe case of colic. Large abscesses may grow up to 8 inches (20 cm) before they burst. They can take weeks or months to heal. Internal abscesses can be caused by weight loss, colic, and lack of coordination. Itchy, painful skin sores can be mildly itchy and may include loss of hair, crusting, or discharge. They can also take a long time to heal.
Your veterinarian will collect samples from the sores to confirm that this is the case. The organism will then need to be identified in a laboratory. It is crucial to recognize the bacteria in order to begin treatment. Ultrasonography can detect internal infection of the liver, kidney, or spleen. Sometimes blood tests are also required.
Treatment with antibiotics is required for internal infections and ulcerative lymphangitis. This treatment can last up to a month. The infection can cause 30-40% death in horses suffering from internal abscesses despite proper treatment. External abscesses that develop early in life are treated with hot packs, poultices or flushing with water (hydrotherapy). Small sores can be punctured to drain the pus and flushed with iodine. Your veterinarian will recommend the best treatment for your horse. Ultrasonography is often used to locate a drain and place it in deep muscles. Doctors will recommend a daily scrub with an iodine-rich shampoo for skin lesions or contaminated limbs. You may need medication to ease pain and promote healing. It is important to provide general supportive and nursing care. It is important to separate sick horses from affected horses. The swelling will gradually decrease over days or even weeks if treatment is successful. Untreated or severe lymphangitis can lead to long-term scarring and hardening.
Infections can be especially dangerous in the abdomen and lower legs if the environment is unhygienic. To limit the spread of infection, it is important to maintain good hygiene, good sanitation, and fly management. Horses should not be exposed to damp or wet conditions for long periods. Even with the best management, this disease can still occur.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!