New guidelines help horse owners and equine vets diagnose and manage Pigeon Fever


Desert horses
AAEP Press Release

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has published comprehensive guidelines for the identification, treatment and prevention of Pigeon Fever (Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis infection), traditionally among the most common infectious diseases in horses in the western United States. During the last decade, however, disease incidence has increased considerably in other regions, including the Midwest.

The guidelines, available at, summarize the clinical signs, diagnostic methods for various clinical forms of the disease, treatments, and approaches to biosecurity and control. They also offer new insights into the use of serologic testing — with links to laboratories offering such testing — and antimicrobial therapy for internal infection.

Infection in horses is caused by the C. pseudotuberculosis bacterial organism, which thrives in hot dry weather. The organism can survive for up to two months in hay and shavings but new research has found that it can survive for more than eight months in soil contaminated with manure, placing increased emphasis on good sanitation practices.

The portal of entry for the bacteria is through abrasions or wounds in the skin or mucous membranes or through inhalation. Pigeon Fever expresses itself most often as external abscesses in the pectoral or ventral abdomen, and less frequently as internal infection or ulcerative lymphangitis.

Without a vaccine, horse owners are urged to take necessary precautions to minimize the risk of transmission by implementing appropriate biosecurity measures, including fly control, meticulous wound care, isolation of affected horses and wearing of disposable exam gloves and hand washing when working with affected horses. Owners are advised to work with their veterinarian for treatment of diseased horses.

The Pigeon Fever guidelines were created by AAEP member Dr. Sharon Spier on behalf of the AAEP’s Infectious Disease Committee and synopsize the research and clinical experience of her and her colleagues at the University of California-Davis.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners, headquartered in Lexington, Ky., was founded in 1954 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the health and welfare of the horse. Currently, the AAEP reaches more than 5 million horse owners through its nearly 10,000 members worldwide and is actively involved in ethics issues, practice management, research and continuing education in the equine veterinary profession and horse industry.



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