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4 min read

Can Dogs Get Pigeon Fever?


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You love all your pets about the same, but maybe your dog slightly more in secret? If your horse comes down with an illness like pigeon fever, could your dog catch it, too? But firstly, what is pigeon fever? It’s also known as ‘dryland distemper’ and is caused by the gram-positive bacteria Corynebacterium pseudo-tuberculosis biovar Equi. It will make your horse’s chest swell, giving the appearance of a pigeon’s chest. Although rarely fatal, owners need to proceed with caution as it’s highly contagious and can be very dangerous. But could your dog even catch it?

Can Dogs Get Pigeon Fever?

While owners may think because it’s so contagious dogs can catch it too, your dog, fortunately, cannot. It's strictly an equine illness. But, what is it your dog is likely to be suffering from if they are displaying similar symptoms and you’re concerned about pigeon fever? It could well be the contagious, viral infection canine distemper.

Does My Dog Have Distemper?

If you’re worried it could, in fact, be distemper then look for the early signs of the disease. Symptoms include fever, followed by a loss of appetite, eye discharge, and a runny nose. Also, keep an eye out for vomiting, diarrhea, and hardening of the pads of the feet. 

But what causes distemper in dogs? A number of things could be behind the disease. Non-immunized dogs that come across infected animals have a much greater chance of catching the disease. It is also possible that improperly attenuated vaccines could be the cause. If your dog has a bacterial infection of the respiratory or gastrointestinal systems, their chances of contracting the disease are again much higher.

Fortunately, through a number of tests, your vet will be able to diagnose the condition. They will run urinalysis and biochemical tests to identify whether there is a reduced number of lymphocytes. They may also run radiographs and MRIs to ensure your dog has not developed pneumonia or lesions. In suspected cases of distemper, tests and results can be done and collated relatively quickly, to allow vets to be able to target symptoms promptly. 

For more detailed information on distemper, read our guide to Canine Distemper.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Distemper?

Regrettably, there is no cure for canine distemper. Instead, your vet will look to tackle the symptoms to allow a better quality of life for your dog. The disease may cause your dog to suffer from excessive diarrhea and leave them dehydrated and also unable to digest enough nutrients. If so, your vet may need to give your dog the fluids and nutrients they need intravenously.

There is also the risk of secondary bacterial infections developing that may affect your dog’s bodily functions and vital organs. In this case, your vet will prescribe antibiotics to tackle any symptoms. There is also the possibility of seizures as a result of the disease. If this is the case, your vet may look to administer phenobarbital and potassium bromide to tackle them.

As there is no cure, your dog will most likely never fully recover. Instead, it is a question of ongoing maintenance and monitoring of your companion. As an owner, you will need to keep a keen eye out for signs of dehydration as a result of the diarrhea and vomiting. Whether your dog survives depends on the particular strain of the virus and the strength of their immune system. 

Reading first-hand accounts from owners can often help your understanding of dangerous symptoms to look out for.

How Is Distemper Similar in Dogs, Horses and Other Animals?

As we have seen, distemper is in some ways similar to pigeon fever in horses. So let’s take a look at the similarities in the symptoms that may be seen:

  • Fever is one of the first symptoms in both dogs and horses and will manifest itself as a significant increase in temperature.

  • Both dogs and horses may suffer from mucus running from their nose and/or mouth.

  • Both may quickly lose their appetite and go off all food.

  • Both dogs and horses may seem lethargic and uninterested in their usual daily activities.

How Is Distemper Different in Dogs, Horses and Other Animals?

So, in many ways, different types of distemper manifest similarly in both dogs and horses. However, there are also certain differences in symptoms that are worth highlighting. Some of those differences are:

  • In horses, swelling of the jaw and cheeks are much more common than in dogs.

  • Horses often develop a wet cough and their breathing may sound strained and raspy; this symptom is seen less in dogs.

  • In dogs, the pads of the feet will harden, the feet on horses, however, usually fail to show visible signs.

Case Study

Oscar was a 3 year old Border-Collie who started to show signs of distemper. He was frequently fatigued, uninterested in his food, and had persistent diarrhea. In addition, when taken to the vet, they noticed his feet had hardened too. After tests, distemper was diagnosed. The vet did their best to alleviate symptoms, from using an IV to administer much-needed nutrients and fluids to providing antibiotics to fight off a secondary infection. Unfortunately however, the particular strain turned out to be fatal and Oscar died. This case highlights the importance of distemper vaccinations, which should be given in a series of shots while your dog is a puppy.

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