Category Archives: Medical

‘Tis the season for Pigeon Fever.


For a long time now, Pigeon Fever has been a ‘California Disease’.

But, that simply isn’t true.  It is everywhere… just not very prevalent like it has been in California.  So, I wanted to tell you about it in case Pigeon Fever comes your way and your vet doesn’t know the symptoms to recognize it.  (I’m not saying your vet is ignorant. I’m just saying that if a disease is unexpected, the mind doesn’t always go there when diagnosing.)


This disease has nothing to do with pigeons so don’t go shooting them or anything like that.  The name came from how the fever appears when it affects a horse in the most common way – through a chest abscess.  Because a horse’s chest will balloon to accommodate a pectoral abscess (the most common area), the chest looks like a pigeon’s chest and hence the name.

The early signs of External Pigeon Fever.


Pigeon fever is caused by Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis, which lives in dirt, and is worldwide.  It can effect any horse especially young adult animals but rarely in foals.  It is suggested that a suppressed immune system makes the horse more susceptible.  Foals seem to be protected by mother’s milk colostrum.


Flies are the known transmitters.  Fly bites in open wounds or scrapes infect the horse.  So, the highest season for Pigeon Fever is when there are the most flies – at the end of a dry, hot summer.  Usually the peak season is October and early November.

If the pre-season has been especially wet – which helps breed flies – Pigeon Fever is worse.

Of course, a horse with an open wound can just roll in the dirt and contract the disease… but flies seem to be the indicator.

Larger external abscess…


Pigeon fever is also called:  Pigeon fever, pigeon breast, breastbone fever, dryland distemper, dryland strangles, false strangles and false distemper.


Although all three types of fever show as abscesses, they vary in severity and care.

1)  The most common type of Pigeon Fever is an external abscess.  Usually, this will appear in the pectoral muscle.  However, pigeon fever can appear anywhere on the body.  Sheath, hip, leg, neck, chin…  Generally, the horse will run a fever, be lethargic, lose interest in food and feel lousy. Usually, a culture will show the infection which will collaborate why there is a big bump.  (Also, a culture will rule out Strangles…)

The external pigeon fever is the easiest on the horse and owner although sometimes gruesome.  The horse’s immune system will encapsulate the bacteria and form an abscess.  Eventually, it will break and drain.  Since an abscess has much pressure and can be very painful for the horse, some owners put hot compresses on the area to bring it to a head faster.  Or, a vet can come out and lance it.  If necessary, the vet can use ultrasound to guide the incision.

Once the abscess has drained, the horse generally feels much better and will heal in a few weeks.  It is best to keep the horse free of flies and to put a topical on the draining wound to keep it free of infection.

If a horse has had pigeon fever, one should keep an eye on him during the season to see if another abscess appears.  This is common.  However, once the horse makes it through the season, they generally never contract it again.  Antibodies.

Abscess in the sheath area.

2)  Internal abscesses

This is bad and can be fatal.  If your horse is off and exhibiting signs of fever and not getting better, it is best to do an ultrasound to see if the poor animal has an organ abscess.  The most common sites for these abscesses to develop are in the liver, spleen, kidneys, and lungs.  About half of the cases with internal abscesses currently have, or have recently had, an external abscess.  Others have no history of having an external
abscess, but have recently been exposed to another horse that has.

It can be difficult to diagnose an internal organ abscess.  I am cutting and pasting this from Dr. Molly Dinucci, DVM:

“We often draw a blood sample for blood
cell and chemistry analysis and submit another sample for a Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis
antibody titre. Horses with internal abscesses typically have
inflammatory bloodwork, with elevated white blood cells and
fibrinogen. Their blood chemistry also commonly shows an elevation in
globulins in addition to other various serum chemistry abnormalities.”

The treatment for internal pigeon fever is certain antibiotics.  If a horse is not treated for internal Pigeon fever, it is 100% fatal.  If it is treated, there is a good chance of survival if caught in the early stages.

I’m guessing this is very painful for the horse.

Drainage is good.

3)  Ulcerative lymphangitis

Ulcerative lymphangitis is several small abscesses above the fetlock.  Generally this only effects one leg at a time.  This is very painful and can be fatal.  Luckily, there are very few cases in the US.  However, worldwide, this is the most common form of the disease.

It is also treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.  If caught early, this clears up within 2 months.


Pigeon Fever is very contagious.  Isolate any horse with this infection and make sure you clean your feet, buckets, towels, stall, shavings, tack or whatever has come in contact with the wounds.  Humans can spread the disease to other horses via transmitting the bacteria on the soles of their shoes or on their hands.


The only strain that can effect a horse is the same one which effects cows.  The strain in goat or sheep do not transfer to horses.

Use of Thermography to find a chest abscess.


There is argument over the use of antibiotics for external pigeon fever as it inhibits the growth of the abscess.  For internal abscesses, the vets usually recommend penicillin.

I hope you never need this information but it is good to have!

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!

The necklaces are cast in bronze!  CLICK HERE if you'd llke to help the Navajo 12 - and if you'd like to put in your advance order for one of these Wild Horse Support bronze necklaces that are free with any $100+ donation!  ($75-$95 value!)

The necklaces are cast in bronze! CLICK IMAGE if you’d lIke to help the Navajo 12 – and if you’d like to put in your advance order for one of these Wild Horse Support bronze necklaces that are free with any $100+ donation! ($75-$95 value!)  We will have 7 available…

Supporting The Bucket Fund through Amazon Smile
Please choose HORSE AND MAN, INC when you shop via Amazon Smile through this link.

Riding Warehouse
Your purchase with Riding Warehouse through this link helps the Bucket Fund!

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!

WRY MOUTH, not a death sentence!

Originally posted, October 2010…

I first came in contact with the term “wry mouth” in 2003 when HORSE AND MAN interviewed HOPE FOR HORSES in North Carolina.  They had a horse there with an unusual disability – wry mouth or wry nose, as it is sometimes called.


Dollface, at that time, was a beautiful, young Arab mare.  As we set up to film her, we really wouldn’t have known anything was odd about her.  From my angle, she looked gorgeous.  Her white coat was glistening, her mane was flowing, she was prancing and snaking her neck.  She seemed like a normal, high spirited horse.

I guess there were a few tell-tale signs.  She was alone.  She sounded like a locomotive and she kept turning her face at an odd angle.

Yup.  It wasn’t until you got up close that you saw it.  Wow.  And then you thought to yourself, “how does she eat or drink?”


She eats and drinks quite well, thank you.  Miraculously, Dollface can even graze!  Actually, all the wry mouthed horses that I have researched, can graze.  And, they can chew.  It may be at odd angles, but they can.

A wry mouth is when one side of the jaw grows more than the other. Wry bites appear as triangular defects in the incisor area. Some of the incisors will meet their opposing counterparts, while others will not.

Wry mouth is an inherited defect.

A totally healthy horse with Wry Mouth.

The problem initially, is that it is very difficult for a wry mouthed baby to nurse.  If they survive that, they have difficulty breathing when exerting lots of energy.  And, since they cannot run and play as vigorously as the others, the herd tends to give them the cold shoulder. They pick on wry mouthed horses.  Kinda like humans pick on those that are different…  Or at least that is what happened to Dollface.


Dollface was born and it was obvious.  Immediately, the owners called the vet and the vet suggested euthanasia.  Luckily for Dollface, it was also suggested that she be brought to HOPE FOR HORSES, an equine rescue facility.  Dollface arrived 6 hours later.

Quickly, Whitney at Hope for Horses fashioned a nipple onto a bottle and put Dollface’s mother’s warm milk into it.  Dollface thrived.  You see, it was much easier for Dollface to grasp the manufactured nipple than the real one.  So, she grew.  There were a few hiccups along the way like when she contracted pneumonia.  But, she healed like any normal foal (after a strong dose of antibiotics) and continued maturing.

There were talks of surgeries but no equine hospital or teaching college stepped up.   So, Dollface continues to live at Hope for Horses.  She is a happy, healthy and beautiful 10 year old mare.  All the volunteers love her.  She’s kinda spoiled… She certainly doesn’t think she has a disability.  And, to be honest, she has that, “Look At Me!” attitude.  Believe me, Dollface, they will look at you and they do!




Aaleyah Belle was born with a wry mouth several years later in 2008.  Sadly, her owners didn’t want her or her mother and were going to shoot them…  Luckily, BHFER heard about this and took both the dam and baby immediately.

Here is their story as told by Theresa at Beauty’s Haven Farm and Equine Rescue:

Aaleyah Belle and Momma Sue arrived on May 3rd, 2008.  Momma Sue is a 16-year-old TB mare that gave birth to a baby on Kentucky Derby day — the day that Eight Belles gave her all at the derby, including her life.  We named the baby Aaleyah Belle to honor Eight Belles.

After the baby was born, she was going to be shot because she had a wry nose and her mom wasn’t wanted.  We were notified of the situation and picked both up that day.


Aaleyah Belle was only a few hours old.Momma Sue was very thin, and neglect was obvious.  We had the vet out right away to flush her out and put her on some meds to help make sure she didn’t get an infection.  Neither the baby nor mom had vet care after the baby was born.  Momma Sue is a good mom and loves Aaleyah Belle.  She’s come a long way in a short time.  She and Aaleyah went to University of Florida for Aaleyah to have surgery to correct her wry nose.


Aaleyah after surgery!

Aaleyah was lucky.  Time had passed since Dollface was a filly and veterinarian surgeons were more willing to donate the necessary surgery.  As you can see, it worked!

Aaleyah made it through surgery and recovery.  She grew and her scars healed.  She eats, drinks and grazes.  Her breathing is far less labored and she is not shunned by the crowd!  In fact, she is one of the gang!

Grown up and out with her buddies

Aaleyah has grown into a very happy young mare with a new job! BHFER sent her into training and it is going very, very well!

Learning trail hazards…

Isn’t it amazing what time will do?  7 years ago, they were going to automatically put Dollface to sleep.  Now, the surgery is well known and successful.

And, learning to ride!


When I was researching for this post, I came across this article about Diego and little girl, Maddison.  Funny, those names sound so American but I read this news story from the UK.  Here is the link.

It seems that Diego is the luckiest so far, even though from this angle it looks the worse, in that he can suckle from him Momma.  I know they are raising the money for his surgery.   And now, even more time has passed since Aaleyah’s successful surgery so things are looking up for Diego and his little human caretaker!

WRY MOUTH OR WRY NOSE is not a death sentence.

It is a bump in the highway of equine life…

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!

Click here to help the Train to Sustain Mustang Program!! Matching Funds! We have only $700 left to totally support the pilot program!

Supporting The Bucket Fund through Amazon Smile
Please choose HORSE AND MAN, INC when you shop via Amazon Smile through this link.

Riding Warehouse
Your purchase with Riding Warehouse through this link helps the Bucket Fund!

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!