Potentially-Deadly Horse Disease On The Increase In Oklahoma

Saturday, January 28th 2012, 7:51 pm
By: News 9

More horses are getting sick from a strain of bacteria that vets say was likely caused by the drought conditions in our state.

It's called drought distemper or pigeon breast.

The bacteria can spread from horse to horse and it's hitting a lot of horses here right now and vets say it can kill them.

"Most of them don't know about it until it hits their horse," Shawnee Animal Hospital veterinarian Mike Steward said.

He says he has never seen so many cases of drought distemper.

"In my 32 years, the first 30 I probably saw ten cases.  This year I've seen 60 in the Shawnee area."

The Oklahoma Humane Society tells News 9, three of 20 horses they've helped rescue recently have drought distemper, too.

They have kept those three separate from the rest and Steward says that's the right thing to do.  The disease is contagious and can be deadly.

"It's kind of like a gopher," Steward said.  "It likes to tunnel around in the tissue rather than stay in one spot."

Drought distemper or pigeon breast normally shows itself on horses' chests.

There is no vaccine available, but it is treatable if horse owners can spot it.

"A lot of horse owners come in complaining someone kicked their horse in the chest or whatever," Steward said. "May only be the size of a 50 cent piece or something."

If it's not treated, the bacteria can spread to the horses liver and kidneys and they can die from it.

"If you see it and you've got a big herd, you'll probably see it in 2 or 3 others," he said.

Steward says it's called drought distemper because it's thought to be caused by dry or contaminated soil.  He's also read some studies indicating flies or insects may be the cause.

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