While you may think of tetanus as something you get from rusty metal, that is actually not at all where Clostridium tetani live. These bacteria inhabit dirt and dust. And, it lives in many dogs’ mouths. Tetanus infections are not common. However, around 10 percent of cases are fatal. If it’s been more than ten years since you last had a tetanus shot , it is time to go get a booster. The C. tetani bacteria live all around us. And tetanus in dogs can be dangerous if the bacteria get in the bloodstream.
Tetanus is a medical condition caused by a toxin. It is a bacterial infection that can affect the nervous system of a dog. And, it can cause muscle problems as well. Tetanus is also known as lockjaw because of how it can affect the normal function of the jaw. This disease may result in death due to the effects it can have on the throat, diaphragm, and a dog’s breathing ability. While it can be deadly, thankfully it is not very common in dogs.
Tetanus can affect humans, cats, horses, and dogs if they have an open wound that comes into contact with the C. tetani bacteria. If left untreated, the disease causes muscle stiffness and ultimately death. Therefore, it is important for dog owners to be aware of the causes, symptoms, and treatments of tetanus.
Tetanus is typically caused when C. tetani bacteria enter a wound. Spores of C. tetani are widespread in the environment. These spores are shed in animal feces and can survive for years in dirt and dust. The C. tetani does not cause problems in a dog’s intestinal tract or on their skin. However, when it enters a low-oxygen environment (such as inside of a wound) it can rapidly reproduce and produce a toxin known as tetanospasmin. This toxin enters the surrounding nerves; from there, it can travel up the nerves to the spinal cord and the brain.
Diagnosis of Tetanus in Dogs
A tetanus diagnosis is typically based on the symptoms a dog is experiencing. A wound may not be present since it can take up to ten days after C. tetani enter the bloodstream to cause symptoms. The wound may heal before symptoms begin or it may be small and hidden by fur.
A blood test to look for the bacteria is available but most veterinarians do not use it due to it not being a reliable test. A laboratory screening, blood work, and X-rays, may be performed to ensure the dog is otherwise healthy.
Symptoms of Tetanus in Dogs
- Curled lips
- Clenched jaw (lockjaw)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Muscle stiffness
- Difficulty walking
- Muscle spasms or tremors
- Inability to bend legs
- Labored breathing or heavy panting
Treatment of Tetanus in Dogs
When treated right away, tetanus symptoms usually do not become severe. However, if left untreated it will progress fairly rapidly. Most of the time, dogs diagnosed with tetanus will receive antibiotics to kill off the bacteria releasing the toxin. If your dog is diagnosed with tetanus early, your veterinarian may also opt to administer an antitoxin to help stop the progression of the toxin. If the toxin has spread to the nerves, the antitoxin will not be effective. This is why the timing of treatment is crucial. Survival rates are 90% when the disease is promptly treated. Recovery may take up to a month.
Preventing Tetanus in Dogs
Because tetanus is not a common problem in dogs, veterinarians rarely administer tetanus vaccinations to your pooch. You can help to prevent the unlikely chance that your dog will get tetanus by cleaning any wounds your pet gets and seeking veterinary care if stitches are needed.
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