Pigeon Fever: One Horse Owner’s Story

While neighbors battle the outbreak for six weeks, self-selected “microcurrent” therapy eases symptoms in less than a week.

Before I even heard of the Pigeon Fever outbreak in our rural NW Oregon neighborhood, my horse was exhibiting signs: lethargy, gooey eyes, swollen glands, and a slight temperature, although he was still eating reasonably well. At 24, Prince is the elder of our herd, and I decided to call the vet, who felt it was too soon to confirm and told me to call again if body swellings appeared, the glands got larger or the fever rose.

Our closest neighbor called and announced she had learned of a confirmed case of pigeon fever nearby. The oldest horse at her place, a 27-year-old Arabian, was also a confirmed case. She had initially called the vet for a swelling near the withers that was quite large. She described it as a small volcano erupting pus. The first diagnosis was spider bite, and the vet treated it with topical medications. But once additional swellings appeared on shoulders and chest, the vet diagnosed pigeon fever. It was my neighbor’s first experience with pigeon fever, and she was horrified when the vet started slicing open the swellings looking for pus pockets. Her horse looked liked it had been attacked by a mountain lion. The horse was miserable and further stressed by being quarantined from the herd for fear of direct contamination.

The wounds were left open to drain, and the horse was put on antibiotics to protect against infection from the open wounds. The vets did not find any additional pus pockets from their very deep probings. Eventually a new swelling formed at the shoulder, and it erupted into a pus pocket. The wounds had to be cleansed, the treatment area disinfected, and antibiotics were administered. The daily routine took approximately an hour. Fortunately, the horse made a full recovery, but only after six weeks of treatment.

Meanwhile, my horse, Prince, developed one swelling on his belly near the sternum and all four legs blew up at the ankles. My vet’s office recommended hot compresses on the belly and cold for the legs. Again I was told to call when it went to the next stage and required opening of abscesses.

I did not want what was happening to my neighbor’s horse to happen to Prince. I decided to try my usual healing routine using microcurrent. This starts with a boost to the immune system and the removal of as many stressors to the body as possible. The weather was lousy, so I kept Prince in his stall with a paddock run. I brought the rest of the herd in, too, reducing the possibility of additional neighborhood exposure and keeping Prince from worrying about his herd. I chose to cool and reduce edema with low level electrical stimulation. I applied a thick layer of Arnica gel and used a microcurrent unit with a single comb attachment. I combed each of his legs starting at the swelling above the fetlocks and finishing at the coronet band to pick up all the ting points that connect to the major Chinese acupuncture meridians. After about five minutes on each leg, the heat was reduced and the swelling was down significantly. The left side looked almost normal. I coated each leg with Calcium Bentonite clay and left them uncovered. I did not want to cover them and risk the legs swelling under leg wraps. The belly swelling was treated with the microcurrent comb and followed up with additional Arnica gel. I put all the horses on Transfer Factor (3 caps daily of the human dosage).

The next morning Prince was swollen again. It had gotten even worse on the right front and rear legs. I repeated the treatment that morning and again that evening. By the evening, the right legs were looking their best since the problem began. Belly swelling went down in less than five minutes. On the morning of the third day there was slight swelling again on the right legs, but the left side looked good, and there was no belly swelling. I repeated treatment on all four legs and the belly again that evening. On the fourth morning all legs looked good, but I still did the treatment on the legs and put him out for the day. The weather was better, and everybody needed to get out of the barn.

I repeated treatment again that evening.

The belly swelling never did return, and no additional swellings appeared. For good measure, the clay was continued twice daily through the seventh day, and the herd was kept on the Transfer Factor for ten days. Transfer Factor is a concentrated form of key ingredients contained in colostrum for boosting the immune system. Three other geldings, ages 8-17, were lethargic for three days but developed no other symptoms.

The microcurrent treatment boosts ATP (adenosine triphosphate) or cellular energy to improve circulation, relieve pain, remove heat, and dissipate the edema. The Arnica gel helps with inflammation and circulation, while the Transfer Factor provides internal support for the immune system. In this case, microcurrent treatment worked well in getting my horse comfortable in less than a week. The neighbors’ horses took six weeks for recovery and required isolation, sanitizing, wound cleaning, and administration of hard–on-the-system antibiotics. Not to mention the veterinarian expenses and additional board for sick care. My cost for Arnica gel, Bentonite clay and the Transfer Factor for four horses was about $120.00. Equipment costs were $970.00 for the device used (although cheaper devices could be used; I just happened to be testing biofeedback/microcurrent combo unit).

Electro medicine, using a microcurrent device, is a staple in my barn. Microcurrent units are part of the TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) class approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The majority of TENS units use milliamps not microamps. Milliamps block the sensation of pain while microamperage is closer to the body’s natural electrical current and works with the body to enhance natural healing. For over 15 years, we’ve used microcurrent for tendon and ligament injuries, soreness, colic, stress, and almost anything else that can and does happen to horses.

Microcurrent has been used on horses for over 30 years, so I’m a relative newcomer to the field. So far I’ve found nothing else that can bring such consistent and gratifying results time after time.

As the years have passed, I have started to use many other therapeutic tools. Anyone caring for horses should know that a microcurrent device used as a foundation for holistic therapy can cut veterinarian costs, speed recovery and, just maybe, as in the case of colic, save a life using less invasive methods. In this instance I believe I averted the nasty side of dealing with pigeon fever.

Article featured in Holistic Horse, 2011

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