Tetanus in dogs: symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention


Tetanus is a well-known disease that wreaks havoc in mammals. If humans and animals like horses are extremely susceptible to this disease, other mammals like dogs or cats are much less, which does not prevent them from being infected with this disease, which can become very serious. , or even fatal in the worst case, if it is not treated in time. But what are the symptoms of this disease, how to react, and how to treat it? All the answers in this article.

Causes of tetanus: how do dogs get it?

Tetanus is a disease resulting from bacterial contamination, by a bacteria called Clostridium tetani or more commonly tetanus bacillus which produces a potent neurotoxin: tetanospamine.

This bacterium is sporulated, which means that when it is in a non-optimal situation to survive, it is able to form a spore, which will be able to survive for very long periods (sometimes entire years). , in very bad conditions, in particular in the ground (one speaks then of telluric disease), and also in animal excrements or in manure.

But tetanus is mainly known to be transmitted via rusty objects, and indeed, in its spore form, the tetanus bacillus survives perfectly well in rust. However, in order to contaminate its victim, it will have to go beyond its cutaneous barrier (its skin), through a wound.

Symptoms of tetanus: how is it manifested?

It takes an average of three to twelve days for clinical symptoms of tetanus to appear, but it can take up to three weeks. There are two forms of contamination:

The localized form

This form is the least serious and the fastest to cure. The area through which the bacteria has infiltrated has a permanent muscle contraction, so stiffness can be observed in the dog’s paw, for example.

This form of infection can be easily treated, and it will usually take a few weeks for the dog to recover from it.

The generalized form

The generalized form of tetanus is much more serious, since it will spread over the entire body of the animal, and will be much more difficult and time consuming to treat. We can then observe in the less serious cases:

  • rigidity of all the muscles of the body, especially the legs, which will make it very difficult for the dog to move, and an often curved tail,
  • a contraction of the muscles around the eyeball, which will cause the eye to sink into its socket,
  • a contraction of the muscles of the face, which will have the effect of pricking up the ears on the head of the dog, as well as stretching the muscles of the mouth, giving the effect that the dog is constantly “smiling”.

In the most serious cases, these symptoms may be observed:

  • contraction of the facial muscles even more intense, the dog no longer “smiles” but has his mouth permanently open,
  • increased heart rate,
  • increase in body temperature, up to 42 ° C instead of 38 to 38.5 ° C normally,
  • extremely severe contraction of the muscles of the paws, preventing the dog from standing,
  • contraction of the throat muscles, preventing the dog from swallowing, thus causing hyper-salivation,
  • change in the dog’s behavior becoming very anxious all the time,
  • muscle contractures aggravated by the slightest stimulation (to touch, sound or light),
  • if the disease has reached the brain, very frequent muscle spasms and seizures,
  • dysfunction of the respiratory muscles, which can cause serious breathing problems, which can lead to death.

Treatment of tetanus: how to treat it?

The first thing to do when you detect the first symptoms of tetanus in a dog, whether localized or generalized, is of course to take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Treatments for tetanus are long and expensive, but fortunately insurance companies offer financial aid for the treatment of this disease.

Once the diagnosis is made by the veterinarian, the principle of treatment will be to fight the neurotoxin produced by the tetanus bacillus, as well as the bacteria itself.

The bacteria will therefore be treated with antibiotics, while the neurotoxin will be combated with an anti-tetanus serum. The wound will have to be dressed by the veterinarian (that is to say that he will have to surgically remove the necrotic walls) then cleaned. He will also be given muscle relaxants to relax the muscles and limit spasms.

If the dog is not too seriously affected, the rest of the treatment can be done at your home. You will need to place your companion in a quiet and dark room to avoid any stimulation that could cause him muscle spasms, and to give him the drugs prescribed by the vet until recovery, which usually takes a good month, even if the first improvements will be felt from the first week. During this period, it will be necessary to regularly change the dog’s position to prevent bedsores from appearing, and to clean it very regularly and its environment because it will relieve its needs in an uncontrolled manner.

In the most serious cases however, ie when the respiratory system, and / or the brain are affected and the dog is undernourished and / or dehydrated, the dog will be hospitalized throughout the treatment. He will be infused if he needs to be rehydrated, a gastric tube will be inserted if he needs refueling, and a life support will be fitted if his respiratory system is paralyzed.

Dogs with tetanus in its localized form have a 90% chance of being fully cured, while unfortunately dogs with tetanus in its generalized form will only have a 50% chance of being fully cured.

Prevention of tetanus: how to avoid it?

Just like in humans, dog tetanus can be prevented with a vaccine. Even though it is not 100% effective, it still greatly reduces the risk. This vaccine is strongly recommended for dogs living in rural areas, where the bacteria are more present than in urban areas (the tetanus bacillus survives very well in soil and manure).

In addition to the vaccine, the best thing to do is to regularly inspect your dog, and to clean the slightest wound with hydrogen peroxide so that any germs are eliminated as quickly as possible.