What are Tetanus?
The first sign that your dog has tetanus is usually a stiffening of the neck, jaw, and hind legs. This progresses into a stiffening of the entire body with muscle spasms and pain when touched. Because dogs usually have a resistance to the clostridium tetani bacteria, any side effects may take longer than usual to begin, and when they do, they may not progress to the whole body. However, if you do not get your dog treatment right away, the toxin may eventually spread to include the rest of the muscles. There is an antitoxin, so the sooner you can get your pet to a veterinary professional the better the treatment will work.
Tetanus is a serious condition in which a toxin or poison blocks the nerve signals and produces severe contractions of the muscles. The source of tetanus toxemia is the clostridium tetani bacteria, which lives in the stomach of cows and horses. Your pet can come into contact with the bacteria through the soil and it enters your dog’s body through a cut or puncture wound. Even after the wound heals, the bacteria stay in your pet’s body and multiply. When the cells die, they discharge a strong nerve toxin, which triggers the contractions of the muscles, lockjaw, and dehydration.
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Symptoms of Tetanus in Dogs
The symptoms of tetanus may not appear for several weeks, and by then the wound may be healed so you may not know what is causing these effects. However, it will be obvious to a veterinary professional, so it is best to take your dog to the veterinarian at the first sign of tetanus. Some things to watch for are:
- Stiffening of the neck and jaw
- Standing with straight, rigid legs
- Muscle spasms
- Pain when touched
- Erect ears
- Stiffening of the tail
- Abnormal facial expressions
- Swelling of the face
- Difficulty eating and drinking
- Difficulty breathing
- Death due to inability to breathe
Any dog can get tetanus, but some dogs are more susceptible than others:
- Between three months to two years old
- Dogs that spend most of their time outdoors
- Large breeds (German shepherd, Labradors)
Causes of Tetanus in Dogs
The cause of tetanus is the clostridium tetani bacteria. It can get into your dog’s body through an open cut or wound, possibly causing stiffening of the muscles, and difficulty eating, drinking, and breathing.
Diagnosis of Tetanus in Dogs
The only way to get a concrete diagnosis of tetanus is to see a veterinary professional. The veterinarian will need to do a complete physical examination, first looking for an injury or the sight of the infections. After this, the veterinarian will check your dog’s heart rate, blood pressure, weight, temperature, and reflexes. Because of the hypersensitivity to touch, she will be very gentle with your pet, but may use sedation if it seems like the examination is causing too much pain and stress.
The laboratory tests that need to be done include a chemistry profile, complete blood count, and a urinalysis. The chemistry levels will usually show an increased amount of creatine phosphokinase (CPK) and the blood count will find increased numbers of white blood cells. The urinalysis may show protein in the urine due to the muscle contractions. Another test to help diagnose tetanus is an electromyography, which records the electrical activity of the muscles.
Treatment of Tetanus in Dogs
Treating tetanus includes stabilizing your dog, medication, and observation. Although some veterinarians may do things differently, treatment is usually similar for all dogs.
The veterinarian will first start intravenous (IV) fluids to stop the dehydration and oxygen therapy to prevent respiratory failure.
Antitoxin (tetanus immune globulin) will be given to stop the progression of the tetanus. Additional medications may be antibiotics (metronidazole), anticonvulsants (diazepam), muscle relaxants (baclofen), and possibly a strong sedative (acepromazine) to keep your pet calm.
Your dog will require round the clock care and observation so hospitalization is necessary. The length of stay depends on how serious your dog’s condition is and how well the treatment is working. Most dogs require at least 7 to 10 days of hospitalization. A feeding tube and ventilator may both be used until your pet is able to eat and breathe independently.
Recovery of Tetanus in Dogs
Your pet’s diagnosis depends on the stage of infection when your dog received treatment and how well the treatment worked. If your dog was already showing serious side effects upon arrival at the clinic, such as respiratory failure, the prognosis is guarded. Your dog’s age and health are important to recovery as is proper nursing care. When you get home, keep your dog in a dark and quiet area. You will need to spend at least a week carefully watching your pet to be sure there are no further complications, and a follow-up with your veterinarian in about a week for another examination will be required.
Tetanus Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My puppy is about two months old and has just been diagnosed with both parvo and tetanus/lockjaw. What can I do to help?
I'll need to bring him home from the vet soon because of costs (he's been on an IV for calories, antibiotics, vitamins, fluids, etc) and am wondering how to keep him hydrated and fed to get past the parvo, but when the lockjaw makes dehydration worse
Im ready and willing to give him care to keep his calories and fluids up, but am afraid his lockjaw may prevent this or that he may even drown if his throat becomes paralyzed
Symptoms began Saturday, and he's been on IV since Monday morning. It's Wednesday now. Does his survival these past days give him better survival chances? The vet says he hasn't gotten any better...(but at least he's not worse) he was still very active, happy, and had an apetite when we brought him in
Did your Veterinarian specifically mention tetanus or just lockjaw as lockjaw may refer to masticatory muscle myositis or temporomandibular joint disorders which require very different treatments. As for taking him home, fluids is going to be the most difficult; some Veterinarians will give owners fluids to give under the skin, I personally do not like this as I’ve seen too many complications (owners not following instructions). Prognosis is better after four or five days of symptoms but still guarded; I would recommend leaving him with your Veterinarian regardless of cost. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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My pitbull she is 3 has jus been diagnosed with Tetanus.She has recently jus been spayed.I brought n a 85lb pit now she's 73lbs.She has been admitted to hospital because her facial features have changed and she hardly ate or drank water.She was foaming alot at the mouth her breathing seemed to b getting harder.Will she pull thru being hospitalized and treated for Tentaus?
The prognosis for tetanus is dependent on the severity of the condition, the timeframe from infection and the treatment given. Treatment consists of inpatient care of fluids, antibiotics, muscle relaxants and symptomatic therapy. It is impossible to give a prognosis since I haven’t examined JuJu, your Veterinarian would be in a better position to indicate chances of recovery. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
She has been admitted n hospital iv of fluids and Tetanus antidote is being given. Given also muscle relaxer 2 help calm her.Quiet padded cage n ICU.I won'the c her because she gets 2 excited and makes her shake so jus been viewing her progress by video.About 5 days we think on really seeing some progress.Fingers crossed and prayers.Thank u.
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My husky is a puppy and she stepped on a rusty nail about 3 days ago and i just took her into the vet. They think they should just cut off her leg but i was wondering if there could be a treatment to save her leg. Currently the infection is only in her paw but it is starting to spread more. Is there any way to save her leg and paw and remove the infection properly?
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My small 6 year old Maltese was having visible behavior changes about a week and a half ago, starting October 31st I noticed she was acting a little strange. She tends to get depressed if I’m not home often enough. Lately I’ve been working long hours so i figured she was just depressed, my family members also noticed she wasn’t acting the same. Sunday November 5th came around and her behavior became a little more pronounced and stood out to me, also since I finally had a day off, i was able to spend more time with her and notice the changes. I did notice she wasn’t eating her regular dry food..i flashed back to when i last feed her, later to remember the last time i put food in her bowl was Wednesday or Thursday, the food was still sitting there and looked untouched.
Later that same day i was having chicken for lunch when i noticed she was watching me eat. At this point i had already noticed she wasn’t eating so i hoped maybe if i fed her small pieces she would eat it at least. Sure enough she swallowed each piece (w/out chewing). I did find it a little strange but i couldn’t pin point what the issue was. Though i did noticed her being extremely attached to me.
Like I said, figured she was just sad because she missed me being home.
Monday November 6, came around..coming back from work I noticed she didn’t greet me the way she typically does, which right away i knew something was wrong. Normally she gets super excited, runs to me with her tail wagging, has me pet her and runs to inhale her water. This time, tail between her legs with a half effort greet, and an attempt of drinking her water, then walks away. I noticed she was unable to drink so, i quickly tried to give her some white rice the size of my thumb. Nothing. Thought maybe a treat would hype her up, which she did get excited for but when it came time to pick it up with her mouth, a face of sadness came across her face. I walked over to the living room left on the floor to see what she would do. She smelled it, tried picking it up several times and finally got the strength to. She jumped on the couch and held her treat with her two paws and made a very dainty attempt on chewing it and then gave up. Quickly realized there had to be an issue with mouth, i checked her teeth and gums checking to see if she react to my touch, nothing. I then tried to open her mouth and with a loud yelp she yelled in pain. Right away I knew she needed to see a vet. Which I was planning on taking her during my lunch the next day. We went to bed and was waken up in the middle of the night by my bed shaking. I noticed it was my dog severally trembling, at first i thought it might be a seizure but she was still getting up walking around just trembling like crazy. I immediately got scared, called a local animal hospital to see what i should do this late in the night. They told me it was most likely a symptom to the pain she was having and she should be fine waiting in the morning. I took her to the vet as soon at the vet office opened. Explained to the vet her symptoms and she then also attempted to open her mouth, again made the same yelp. The vet told me she had locked jaw, prescribed her prednisone 3mg/ml 2cc twice a day for 7 days, 2cc once day for 7 days, and 2cc every other day for 7 days and cimetidine syrup 60mg/ml 1cc twice a day for 7 days or until gone, they ran blood work which per the vet stated everything came back normal except for her white blood count coming back a little elevated, which might mean an infection so they prescribed her clavamox 1cc twice a day- started November 11th.
My dog seems to be feeling better and finally making attempts at chewing her rope toys but today I thought I’d look more into locked jaw in dogs and do my research, which I noticed most say it may be tetanus and a lot of the cases don’t tend to end well or it’s a long recovery because most vets aren’t familiar with how to treat it since it’s fairly rare. But also noticed in most stories/cases there’s an injury first or laceration then turns to tetanus.
There were never visible signs of an injury or puncture. She also isn’t the most outdoorsy.
Is it possible my dog might have tetanus?
Is my pet being treated correctly?
If this isn’t tetanus what might it be?
Any recommendations 4 my 8 year old Chihuahua one day she was fine and the next she was outside laying with her arms straight out stiff she is still aware of everything eating drinking everything . The only thing she Yelps about is if I try to put her on her back and gently push her head back because her neck is also a little stiff
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Can dogs and cats be administered human tetanus vaccination? Also what vaccine can be given to a dog suffering from Tetanus?
There is currently no licensed tetanus vaccine for dogs, I cannot recommend the off label use of a prescription medicine. There are other causes of stiff jaw in dogs including masticatory myositis and temporomandibular joint ankylosis. Visit your Veterinarian for an examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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