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What are Tetanus?

There are two variations of tetanus, localized and generalized. Because of their high resistance to the toxin released by the Clostridium tetani, cats are more likely to develop localized tetanus rather than generalized. Localized tetanus causes muscle spasms and stiffness in the muscle tissues near the puncture wound. Generalized tetanus, which is much more common in other animals than in cats, causes muscle contractions of the face, jaw, neck, hind legs, and other areas.

Although tetanus is extremely rare in cats because they have been found to be very resistant to the toxin released by the bacteria, isolated cases have been reported. If your cat has sustained a puncture wound, rather than trying to clean and treat the wound yourself, it is best to contact your veterinarian or take your cat to an emergency veterinary hospital.

Tetanus toxemia, commonly called tetanus or lockjaw, is a disease that is caused by toxic bacteria called Clostridium tetani. This bacteria is usually found in soil and sometimes within the intestinal tract of animals. Clostridium tetani causes tetanus toxemia when an animal or human suffers a deep penetrating wound from a sharp implement that has soil or feces on it that contains this bacteria. Especially when the wound is not immediately and thoroughly cleaned out, the bacteria works its way into the dead tissue of the wound. As the bacterial spores grow and develop, a toxin forms inside the spores. During an incubation period of approximately ten to fourteen days, the bacterial spores continually reproduce. As these spores die, they release a toxin, or poison, into the surrounding tissue. This toxin blocks the nerve signals that inhibit muscle tissue from flexing, which causes the affected muscle tissue to spasm and become tense and rigid. 

Symptoms of Tetanus in Cats

Tetanus is quite rare in cats, and in the isolated feline cases that do occur, localized tetanus is much more common. This localized tetanus tends to manifest in the following symptoms, which occur specifically in the muscles around the puncture wound:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle stiffness and rigidity

Left untreated, tetanus in a cat can at times spread through the neural pathways to the spinal cord, becoming generalized tetanus. In these rare cases, generalized tetanus will present the following symptoms:

  • Mouth that remains partially open with lips drawn back because of the “locked jaw.”
  • Muscle spasms throughout the body, especially in the face, jaw, and neck
  • Exaggerated and often violent muscular reflexes when startled or touched
  • Difficulty bending joints
  • Difficulty walking, backing up, and turning 
  • Erect ears
  • Stiff and erect tail
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate

Causes of Tetanus in Cats

The most common cause of tetanus is a deep puncture wound caused by a dirty object that is infected with the Clostridium tetani bacteria. When the deep puncture wound is not quickly and medically cleaned and treated by a veterinarian, the bacteria can infect the dead tissue and release the toxin that causes tetanus toxemia, or lockjaw. It should also be noted that this bacteria is more common in the soil of warmer climates.

Diagnosis of Tetanus in Cats

If you have observed the symptoms of tetanus in your cat, it is imperative that you seek veterinary attention immediately. The sooner a diagnosis can be made and treatment is administered to your cat, the better your cat’s prognosis is likely to be. Your veterinarian will likely utilize the following treatment options:

  • The vet will ask questions about the symptoms you have observed.
  • The vet will observe your cat’s behavior and symptoms.
  • Your cat will receive a thorough physical examination.
  • The vet may take blood, urine, and/or feces for testing.
  • The vet may take a sample of the tissue or fluids from the puncture wound to be tested for the tetanus toxin.

Treatment of Tetanus in Cats

If the veterinarian determines that your cat is suffering from tetanus toxemia, treatment will begin immediately. The following forms of treatment are most likely to utilized by your vet:

  • The wound will be drained and cleaned, perhaps repeatedly.
  • Muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, and sedatives may be administered to calm muscle spasms.
  • Antibiotics may be administered to curb the growth of the Clostridium tetani bacteria.
  • Tetanus antitoxin may be administered to counteract the effects of the bacterial toxin.

Recovery of Tetanus in Cats

Your cat’s prognosis is heavily dependent upon how quickly your cat received diagnosis and treatment after the infecting puncture wound occurred. Your veterinarian may require your cat to stay at the veterinary clinic or hospital overnight or for multiple days for treatment and observation. You may need to take your cat in once or more to have the wound drained and cleaned. You will need to administer all medications consistent with the instructions provided by your veterinarian. The vet may also decide to vaccinate your cat against future cases of tetanus toxemia. The prognosis for a cat that is treated immediately is often good, but the prognosis for a cat with a wound that goes untreated for any period of time is likely more grave.

Tetanus Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

10 Months
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Rigid l, stiffnes in lower bo
Rigid legs, stiffness in lower body

1 day one of my cats ran away but according to cat's behaviour this was quiet normal. 3 days later i got to know from one of my friends that few days earlier, a cat had an accident in the society basement. Next morning after a long question hour asking each and every guard if they knew about the accident, I finally met one who took me to the place where my kiwi was 'thrown' to die when he was alive after the accident. Seeing his condition I couldn't resist crying and ttook him immediately to vet. His broken leg bone could be very well seen as the skin was torn and had dried leaves stuck to it. Dehydration, jaundice, starvation was all we got to know untill one day(3-4 days later) we got to know that he was suffering from tetnus. The doctor recommended a bigger hospitalwhere he was immedeately taken but still not admitted as that fecility was not available. Same morning, I'd giben her gasocan and water for which she moved her neck and tongue by which i was assured that it's locat tetnus and not generalised which makes the jaw stiff and mouth open. I prayed to god and even talked to my cat telling him that he'd be fine, beleiving in the power of positive thinking. The room in whuch he was kept now was dark and quit as sudden light and sound can also effect the effected muscles negatively. After continues treatment, he recovered though the broken leg had to be cut off and replaced with a prosthetic leg. Have hopes and give hopes to your hopeless litte buddy and hope for the best showing her how much you care. It'll be alright.

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4 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Loss of Balance
Loss of Appetite
Difficulty Urinating

Medication Used


Our cat Athena ran away once we moved into our new home. She has been an indoor/outdoor cat since she was born.(2014) After giving up hope of her return, she miraculously arrived back at our new home. She has a small puncture wound on her back hind leg. One that resembles that of a barb wire wound. (Barb-wire fence directly across the street) She lost about 4 pounds in her absence and was in dire need of medical attention. My wife and I took her to our 24hr animal hospital in town within an hour of her arrival. The animal hospital ran a blood test, inspected the wound, and prescribed a shot of antibiotic (14 day) and a small 24 flea medication called Capstar. We brought her home and that is when she started declining. Inability to maintain balance, loss of appetite, lack of fluid drinking, hiding in the litter box, self urinating and defecating, and overall lethargic. We returned to our normal veterinary clinic to have a follow up two days later. They ran a urine test, drew more blood, and tested her fecal matter. All signs pointed to a healthy cat. Her wound had already started to scab over so both doctors saw that as a sign her body was already healing itself. This doctor perscribed a series of steroid pills as well as an antibiotic. Two days later, her condition worsens. Complete inability to walk. She lays down with her front two legs completely stiff. She is still somewhat responsive to finger snaps, name calling, and other hand gestures but, has an incredibly difficult time being able to get up to a standing position. Still only eats 1-2 ounces of wet cat food. Mostly licks the gravy and chews on the meat pieces. Does not drink water at all so I have been force feeding her three syringes of water every 12 hours. She is declining and we fear we may soon have to euthanize her if her condition does not improve. I’ve read recently about tetanus in felines and it definitely seems that this may be the very problem we have had overlooked. Thoughts?

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Black and white
2 Days
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

No other symtom

2 weeks ago I noticed my 2yo cat had circular hair loss on his leg, then a week later it developed a scab now it has turned into a hole in his leg. We are off to the vets but there is some wait. I would like to know ASAP what it could be and of its serious

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Without examining LJ it is difficult to say what the specific cause is; some infections, traumatic injury among other issues may result in a loss of soft tissue creating a hole. I think by the time I’ve replied to this message you would have already spoken to your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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short hair
3 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms


A neighborhood cat be cake weak in her hind legs then lost complete mobility, I took her to the vet but they said they couldn’t see anything wrong with her and would have to keep her charging close to $1000. I do not have that kind of money and don’t know what to do, she meows and moves her hear slightly. I did manage to take pictures of the X-rays and notice a snail key/nail like shape in her stomach region

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Without examining the cat and seeing a high resolution image of the x-rays it would be difficult to determine a cause; if the Veterinarian couldn’t find anything wrong it may be a neurological issue which may be very difficult to diagnose without a Specialist and possibly imaging studies like an MRI. There are resources to help pay for veterinary care which you may try which include charity clinics and nonprofits (see link below). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Ginger cat
2 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Loss of Appetite

My cat has suddenly become tired and is sleeping since a day he is having difficulties moving and is not eating anything. He is never this weak but all of a sudden he seems very weak and is not even meowing.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1611 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Without seeing Mew, it is hard for me to know what might be going on with him. It would be best to have him seen by your veterinarian so that they can look at it him, see what is happening, and recommend any testing or treatment that might be needed for him. I hope that he is okay.

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