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This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Humans and horses are routinely vaccinated against tetanus, whereas cats and dogs are not. But, what is tetanus ?

Tetanus is a disease caused by a neurotoxin that is produced by a bacterium called Clostridium tetani. This organism survives in environments lacking in oxygen, and it forms resistant spores which are found in the environment - especially in damp soil, and in animal and human faeces. 

The disease occurs when the organism (or it's spores) gain access to a wound - often a deep penetrating wound. As the organism grows it produces toxin which travels around the body via the bloodstream. The toxin attacks the nervous system and causes a number of signs, usually within 10 days of gaining access to the body, including :

  • Muscle stiffness and spasms - legs, ears held erect, facial muscles eg lips, "lock jaw". These spasms are painful.
  • Inability to flex one or more limbs
  • Abnormal body posture due to muscle contractions
  • High body temperature
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • 3rd eyelid protrusion
  • Sunken eyes
  • Increased production of saliva
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Difficulty breathing - especially if the larynx goes into spasm
  • Over-reaction to stimuli
  • Convulsions 
  • Difficulty eating
  • Stop passing faeces
  • Stop passing urine
  • Death

Treatment involves the use of an antitoxin,  antibiotics and other medications to help the animal. Fortunately dogs and cats are not particularly susceptible to tetanus, and clinical cases are usually mild, whereas horses, ponies and guinea pigs are very susceptible to the disease.

Horses should be vaccinated initially with two doses  2-4 weeks apart followed by boosters after 12 months, then every 1-2 years.

For other species (cattle, sheep and pigs) the same primary course of vaccination is recommended followed by a booster every year.

 All cases of wounding - particularly deep penetrating wounds, should receive prompt veterinary attention.


Updated October 2013