"Tetanus in Dogs

"Tetanus in Dogs

Health & Safety

Luckily, tetanus is quite rare in dogs, but when they do develop any of the systems associated with condition, it can be fatal especially if dogs are not treated as a matter of urgency. The infection is caused by clostridial spores which enter a dog's system through a puncture or other type of wound no matter how big or small it happens to be. It takes a little time for the damaging spores to take hold, but when they do, they release toxins which attack a dog’s nerves causing all the damage. The result is a dog then starts to show the symptoms of suffering from tetanus and would need to be treated by a vet sooner rather than later.

Symptoms Associated with the Condition

The condition is often referred to as lockjaw"" and for good reason because the symptoms associated with tetanus negatively impact muscles found in the body causing rigidity. The first sign of there being a problem when a dog had been infected typically occurs at a point on their bodies nearest to the wound. This involves a tenseness of muscles and difficulty moving. As the infection spreads dogs start to show the following symptoms:

  • A stiff gait
  • A strange, rigid stance

As their condition worsens, dogs start to have what is referred to as a ""rictus grin"" which is when the muscles around their mouths cause their lips to pull back over their teeth. Other symptoms seen in the latter stages of tetanus also include the following:

  • A wrinkled forehead
  • Ears are held back tightly against the head
  • Difficulty opening their mouths
  • Difficulty eating and swallowing
  • Difficulty standing due to the toxins having entered the nervous system
  • Paralysis of muscles responsible for breathing

Because dogs suffering from tetanus cannot eat or drink as they should, they quickly become dehydrated and without immediate veterinary care, a dog would quickly succumb to their symptoms.

The Causes

As previously mentioned, the bacteria responsible for causing tetanus is called bacterium Clostridium tetani and it can survive in soil for long periods of time once the earth has become contaminated. Should a dog stand on a sharp object on contaminated ground, the damaging spores enter through the wound. The spores quickly take hold and germinated deep in a dog’s skin which then results in nerve damage.

Tetanus spores travel to a dog's nervous system via nerves found in their bodies which is why when dogs develop the symptoms associated with tetanus, over time their condition gets progressively worse. It is worth noting that while some dogs only experience mild symptoms when they pick up the damaging tetanus spores, other dogs become seriously ill and as such would need to be seen by a vet sooner rather than later if they are to survive.

Diagnosing the Condition

A vet would need to know as much as possible about how a dog was injured and how the first signs of there being something wrong first presented themselves. Establishing a definitive diagnosis often proves challenging because the spores responsible for tetanus don't often show up in blood tests. The other problem is that the spores die off quickly when exposed to air which often means that when tested in a laboratory, the results often come back as being false negative. As such, a vet would base their diagnosis on the symptoms a dog presents and would want to eliminate other health issues which boast having similar symptoms to those associated with tetanus. The conditions a vet would want to rule out would include the following:

  • Meningitis
  • Poisoning
  • Distemper
  • Polymyositis
  • Rabies

Treatment Options

Should a dog show signs of suffering from tetanus and their symptoms are severe, a vet would prescribe a course of antibiotics with an end goal being to help destroy the spores from spreading and producing the damaging toxins into a dog's system.

Any wounds or injuries would need to be kept as clean as possible and as much damaged tissue and skin would need to be exposed to the air which also helps kill off damaging spores. It is essential for a treatment to be set in place before any nerve damage occurs and before the harmful toxins have a chance to enter a dog's nervous system.

Dogs also need to be kept as quiet as possible in a calm and darkened environment which helps prevent any convulsions. The reason being that these are often triggered by environmental stimuli. Sadly, when the toxins have already negatively impacted a dog's nerves not much can be done and the symptoms need to run their course which is where supportive care is essential as to whether a dog would pull through or not. This could mean a dog staying hospitalised so they can be fed intravenously and given oxygen when needed until they are able to breath normally for themselves.


The only real way of reducing the risk of a dog developing tetanus is to make sure any wounds or injuries no matter how small are cleaned thoroughly as soon as possible using a solution of diluted hydrogen peroxide which is known to effectively kill off the damaging tetanus spores.


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