Problem was Pigeon Fever

I just returned from my equine veterinarian late Wednesday afternoon after yet another incident with my mare.

I continue to ponder her compromised immune system in light of this latest news. So here’s the story.

My mare shares a large plot of land with two geldings that are never afflicted with any of her maladies, and I contribute much of her distress to her breed.

We have developed a mutual understanding and trust through the years and I am able to guide her into her paddock each evening by simply holding my hand under her neck and directing her toward her nighttime quarters.

Several days ago, I felt a golf ball size lump under her neck on the left side. I questioned whether it was perhaps the thyroid gland or an enlarged lymph node. 

Given that her appetite, demeanor and willingness to join the boys each morning had remained unchanged, I chose to wait and observe her for a few days.

I mentioned to my father and son that I knew she was “off” but her healthy feet led me to think it was not another founder episode. She had lost some weight, which had me perplexed, as she has plenty to eat. It occurred to me Monday morning that she may need to be dewormed.

I ran by the feed store that evening and picked up a de-wormer medication. I used an Ivermectin-based formula the last time and knew that it was beneficial in that it provides alternative ingredients when de-worming. I purchased a Pyrantel Pamoate product with the hope it would provide adequate coverage for any worm infestation.

As I reached up under my mare’s neck with a gentle touch to guide her into her pen that evening, my hand felt a large, hard baseball-sized lump protruding from the opposite side of her jaw, where the neck and jaw intersect.

My mind began racing and I began thinking it must be some sort of sarcoma. I went home heavy-hearted pondering the future without my back beauty.

When I got home, I did some research and contacted my small animal veterinarian. The result from both inquiries was that perhaps the lump was abscess caused by something she had eaten, such as cheat grass or a foxtail, that had become lodged in the back of her mouth. But lump’s rapid developed was odd. It was not there Sunday evening.

Walking my mare into the veterinarian Wednesday afternoon, he took one look at the growth on her neck and stated that he suspected Pigeon Fever. He drew a sample to send off to a laboratory and then lanced the engorged area with a sharp scalpel.

As blood filled pus began pouring out of the incision, the most malodorous smell filled the air. I became light-headed and feared I would pass out as the veterinarian flushed the abscess.

When I ask him if Pigeon Fever was horse specific, he chuckled and relayed a story about lancing an abscess on a large Charolais bull with an abscess was so deep it nearly filled a five gallon bucket.

The rancher and his grandson stood nearby watching the veterinarian tend the bull and as the bucket filled, the rancher told his grandson that the contents of the bucket were vanilla pudding.

That was about the exact moment I became sweaty and more light-headed, needing to squat to prevent myself from collapse. When I regained composure, I asked the veterinarian to finish his story. He laughed heartily, then said that the grandson had passed out, toppling to the ground during the flushing process.

I definitely could empathize with that grandson!

The veterinarian calmly explained that Pigeon Fever is transmitted via the filthy fly. It is highly contagious to other horses and cattle. Although it is a bacterial disease, in some cases, antibiotics actually prolong recovery.

Pigeon Fever is especially prevalent this time of year because of the increased fly population, but fortunately has no long term side effects.

I was given a syringe to flush the area of the abscess with hydrogen peroxide twice daily and told to provide sufficient fly control through sprays and a fly mask. He recommended keeping an eye on the geldings for any abscesses and said he would call me when he received the results from the laboratory. 

I will always suspect my mare’s compromised immunity as a contributing factor to the maladies she often experiences. However, recognizing her deficiencies will hopefully precipitate my judgement on the care that is needed.

Realizing when she is “off” and analyzing the particular situation will definitely expedite recovery. While it can be challenging to be this horse’s owner, I cannot imagine life without her. 

Charlé Thibodeau has been passionate pet caregiver for more than 30 years. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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