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Pigeon Fever - No Laughing Matter
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Pigeon Fever - No Laughing Matter

No matter how well we take care of our horse, some day our beloved creature is going to have an injury or illness. I was still a pretty new horse owner when one morning while brushing my horse, I noticed a bump on her chest. It was about the size of a tennis ball and kind of hard. I watched it for a few days, and it didn’t seem to change.  When my riding instructor came, she said, “It may be pigeon fever, my horses had it last year. It’s a pretty nasty bacterial infection, and it is highly contagious.” “Pigeon fever?” I asked, “I have never heard of such a thing.  Should I call the vet?” She advised to keep checking to see if my horse was showing signs of fever or lethargy. My mare was her usual self; the swelling didn’t seem to bother her. Every day I checked out her chest and what started as a small bump was getting slowly but surely bigger every day. I started reading up on the disease and found that it was no laughing matter since it could eventually cause lameness and weight loss and be accompanied by abscesses and sores not only on the chest but also in the groin area or on the back. The worst that could happen would be the development of internal abscesses that could even be fatal.  The very common abscesses in the pectoral muscles that make the chest swell up give the disease its name, and I can see why since my horse’s chest was developing into a big round pigeon-esque balloon.

The vet came out, and he confirmed everything that I had been reading. Emma did not have a fever and no other signs of an internal infection. The external infection was going to get nastier, this much the vet promised me. Once the ulcer would start draining, I needed to make sure that I would keep the wound open and and disinfect all areas where she may drop any of the drainage because I had another horse and the pus was contagious. I kept monitoring the progress of the disease. Em’s chest got frighteningly big.

One day, a few weeks after I had first noticed her bump, I picked Em up from the pasture and saw a hole in her chest with some puss that had run down her coat. I knew the time had come to help her get relief. I tied her to a post and got a bucket of hot water, added some bleach, put on some rubber gloves, and soaked a towel in the hot water. For about twenty minutes I kept putting hot compresses on Em’s chest. She didn’t seem to be hurting, but the compresses helped her wound drain. It was a nasty business, not something I would want a feeble human being or a child to witness. More and more liquid was coming out of my horse. As I worked on her, Em kept resting her head on my shoulder. When no more liquid came out of the wound, I treated it with Betadine. I released Em to start working on disinfecting the area where I had “operated” on her, and she walked back out to the field. We repeated this process for several days. Her chest finally started shrinking to its normal size. The opening in her skin looked like a shotgun injury. Then finally, after what seemed like months of agony but was not more than a few weeks, Em was looking normal again. She had held up well. If she had been a human I would have said, “She never complained.” I do not know if she was ever in pain during her illness, but if she was, she did not show it. I was relieved to only see a small scar where weeks before she looked like someone had taken a shot at her at short range.

 

 

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