LETHBRIDGE: A bacterial infection that's relatively rare to Southern Alberta and impacts horses, has flared up in our region this year.
Pigeon fever generally causes large lumps to develop on the chest of a horse, making it swell up and somewhat resemble a pigeon. In some cases the lumps or abscesses will also form along the underside of the belly, neck, face, armpit or groin. In about one quarter of cases the horse will develop a fever and can be lethargic and seem stiff or lame.
The infection is transmitted when the hard lumps burst and release pus, which flies quickly go to and spread to other horses.
Doctor Kelsey Brandon with Claresholm Veterinary Services discusses treatment for an infected horse, "There is no vaccine for it or anything like that, and we don't treat them with antibiotics while the abscesses are maturing. We let the abscess mature and then we drain it and lance it in order to treat it."
It has been noted in the southern United States, where the illness is far more common, that the use of antibiotics for external abscesses can in some cases prolong healing time and bring about other risks.
Brandon explained that it is very important to get the animal to a vet right away, as they may need to do an ultra-sound to ensure that the abscesses are drained in a controlled and safe manner. It then becomes crucial that you take steps to keep the area clean and flush it daily while it heals.
Brandon also went over the best ways of preventing the spread of the illness, "Practice good fly control, so spray your horse with fly spray daily, check them daily for swelling, try to put on fly masks and fly sheets and things like that." She noted that infected horses should also be isolated as soon as possible.
In less than 10-per cent of cases internal abscesses will form, and of those about 30-per cent die.
For the vast majority however the survival rate is high when dealing with external abscesses.
So far there have been about 20 cases between Claresholm, Fort Macleod, Lethbridge and Taber.