Tetanus is a deadly condition that blocks the nerves and causes contractions in the muscles. This disease is caused by the Clostridium tetani bacteria, which is a type of bacteria that produces a toxin called tetanus toxaemia.
These bacteria are often found in the soil and dirt and can infect the body through a deep cut or a puncture wound since the wound can close and heal, but the bacteria remains inside the body where it can grow and spread. If not treated properly, it will eventually discharge a nerve toxin which triggers severe contractions in the body, dehydration, and lockjaw.
The bacteria affects most mammals, including human beings. And although there was a time when tetanus was considered very deadly, it can now be avoided and also treated, as long as it is detected early. The best option to fight this disease is the injection of an antitoxin, and immunization shots to avoid the bacteria.
It is possible, though very rare, for a dog to get a tetanus infection.
One of the most common reasons a dog can get infected with tetanus is if he steps on a sharp object that is contaminated with Clostridium tetani and the bacterial spores bury deep within the tissue. There are also some rare cases where tetanus is transmitted via a dog or animal bite.
If you suspect your pet might have tetanus, then you should observe him very carefully and check if your dog has the following symptoms:
■ Rigid legs while standing straight
■ Muscle spasms
■ Stiffening of the tail
■ Stiffening of the neck and the jaw
■ Grin-like facial expression
■ Erect ears
■ Face swelling
■ Dehydration symptoms
■ Difficulty in eating
■ Difficulty in breathing
If not treated early, tetanus could be fatal for the dog. However, the only accurate way to diagnose tetanus is to see a veterinary professional. The veterinarian will then conduct a full physical examination of your dog, test the heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and reflexes of the animal and if the clinic is equipped with electromyography, then they will be able to record the electrical activity of the muscles.
If the vet considers a tetanus infection might be possible, laboratory tests will need to be performed, such as a CBC (Complete Blood Count), urinalysis, and a blood chemistry profile. A high white blood cell count in the CBC test might indicate an infection of the bacteria; an increase in creatine phosphokinase may show the presence of the nerve toxin; and finally, the urinalysis may pinpoint certain proteins that relate to muscle contractions.
If your dog punctures his paw with a sharp object, the first step is to seek professional help. If you are unable to take your dog to a veterinarian immediately, then you should clean the wounded area as well as you can, and once bleeding stops, you should avoid covering the wound too tight since the oxygen in the air is a deterrent for the bacteria's growth. However, it is important to take your dog to the vet.
The first thing the veterinarian will do is to stabilize your dog. He might introduce intravenous (IV) fluids through an injection and, considering the gravity of the symptoms, he may also use oxygen therapy to avoid respiratory failure. The next step will be to prevent toxins from affecting the body so that the vet may medicate your pet with antitoxins (tetanus immunoglobulin), antibiotics (metronidazole), muscle relaxants (baclofen), anticonvulsant (diazepam), and strong sedatives (acepromazine). Your dog will be under observation and will be required to stay in the clinic or hospital until he is stable.
Depending on the gravity of the infection and how early the treatment was applied, it may take a while before your dog is back to his old self. You should keep your dog in a quiet room to recover, and if there were any lockjaw, you would need to be very careful during feeding times. Your vet will instruct you on how to do it properly, although a soft or liquid diet might be required for some time.
Between humans and dogs, there are a lot of similarities in the way the tetanus symptoms manifest:
■ Muscle stiffness: The rigidity of the muscles due to the increasing number of tetanic muscle spasms
■ Locking jaw or lockjaw: A late stage symptom of the disease
■ Difficulty in swallowing and breathing: Without proper treatment, the neurotoxin will eventually reach the lung muscles and make it harder to breathe.
■ Dehydration and starvation: Because of any lockjaw, the infected will be unable to drink or swallow water, resulting in severe dehydration.
■ Death: If not treated properly, tetanus can eventually kill the infected animal or person as a result of asphyxiation.
Tetanus is most commonly found in humans, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and dogs. However, tetanus infection is very rare in cats, birds, and rodents.
Tetanus fatality is high in developing countries, due to the lack of treatment or because treatment was administered too late in the infected person. Though not common, there are some cases where tetanus was detected after a dog bite. In India, a 50-year-old farmer was bitten by a dog. After showing symptoms, the first assumption was rabies, although that was ruled out when the dog survived after 30 days. The farmer displayed all the symptoms of tetanus but died after 15 days because of the lack of proper treatment.