What are Tetanus?
This condition is usually picked up through open cuts or wounds, especially if the wound has dirt in it. The bacteria can also be accessed through contaminated food being eaten. The bacteria multiply rapidly within the host, producing a toxin that is very potent. If your horse is infected the prognosis is not good as it is very hard to treat unless it is in the very early stages, and even then, it can be doubtful. This aggressive toxin attacks the nerves that control the body muscles, with worsening spasms and movement being progressively difficult.
Tetanus is caused by bacteria found just about anywhere and it can survive for long periods in the soil. It is easily prevented but difficult to treat.
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Symptoms of Tetanus in Horses
- Loss of appetite and difficulty eating; often this condition is called lockjaw
- Your horse will experience progressive difficulty in moving around
- Third eyelid protrusion across the eye
- Facial muscles and anxious expression
- Muscles spasms and twitching
- Respiratory failure
- Body sweats
- Tetanus travels to the central nervous system and activity from your horse will cause muscle spasms violent enough to cause bone fractures
- In normal tissue the bacteria cannot grow, it takes tissue damage called necrosis to trigger off the bacteria
- C.tetani - spherical spores are found in soil around the world
Causes of Tetanus in Horses
- This condition is caused though the bacteria called Clostridium tetani
- Bacterial infection through an abrasion or a cut such as on the hoof that has become dirty
- The bacteria produce a virulent toxin which attacks the nerves that control the muscles
- The toxin produced by the bacteria is what causes the damage
- Eating infected soil on the grass within the paddock
Diagnosis of Tetanus in Horses
If your horse is exhibiting a stiffness or a reluctance to move, or is starting to have muscle spasms, you will need to contact your veterinarian as quick as you can. The bacteria picked up through either a dirty wound or ingesting infected food can spread rapidly, and stiffness usually starts around the head and neck area or hind quarters area. You may find your horse’s nostrils are flared out and its stance may look unusual and stiff. Normally your horse will stop eating and drinking. They can develop a fever and sweat profusely.
As the disease spreads respiration problems begin and your horse will become agitated because of the difficulty in breathing. These are all signs that your veterinarian will check for prior to suggesting treatment. Time is of the essence as far as therapy; if time permits, blood work may be taken as a way to further confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Tetanus in Horses
Unfortunately, due to the virulent nature of the disease, and its ability to multiply rapidly, the prognosis is not good. Early diagnosis is targeted at eliminating the bacteria, to prevent further toxin being made. If the injury can be found where the bacteria have entered, opening the wound up and cleaning damaged tissue and cleaning it out will help. Once the toxin makes it to the spinal cord it is almost impossible to treat. Large amounts of antibiotics are used to overcome the effects of the toxins, and are used along with tetanus antitoxin.
These treatments are injected both intravenously and intramuscularly. Keeping your horse relaxed and quiet will help, as any stress can trigger severe spasms. A quiet dark place and minimal handling of your horse will keep him calm. There are various sedatives that can calm your horse. The road back to health will be a difficult and long journey. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on the best way to manage your horse’s treatment.
Recovery of Tetanus in Horses
With the very low rate of success through treatment, prevention is the best way to manage this disease from ever happening. Tetanus is an easily preventable disease and is highly recommended for your horse. With the bacteria found in almost all areas and pasture, it is the wisest course of action for your horse. Your veterinarian can vaccinate your horse which consists of two injections delivered approximately six weeks apart. Then he will suggest a course of booster shots at two year intervals. This is by far the safest way to protect your horse. Recovery from contracting tetanus is a long and virtually impossible battle, with sadly a very low success rate. For humane reasons and in kindness to your horse, euthanasia is often recommended.