It is important for dog owners to be aware of the risk of tetanus in their dogs, as the disease can be fatal. Tetanus in dogs is a serious infection caused by bacteria that can enter the body through a wound. Symptoms of tetanus in dogs include muscle stiffness and spasms, difficulty swallowing and breathing, and difficulty rising. Read more to learn about how tetanus can affect dogs.

What is tetanus in dogs and what are the causes?

Tetanus is caused by a neurotoxin formed in the body during the growth of a bacteria called Clostridium tetani. These bacteria spores can be found in the environment all over the world. They're very resistant to degradation and can survive for months or even years. Increased moisture, soil cultivation, and fertilization make it easier for these organisms to grow. You can also find them in the feces of many animals - including dogs and cats.

Tetanus in dogs usually develops after spores of Clostridium are introduced into wounds or puncture wounds. These spores can then grow and produce a toxin called tetanospasmin. This toxin can cause muscle spasms and stiffness, leading to the characteristic tetanus symptoms.

Interestingly, dogs and cats are naturally resistant to tetanus toxin compared to other animals. This is because the toxin cannot penetrate and bind to nervous tissue in dogs and cats.

What are the symptoms of tetanus in dogs?

Most dogs develop symptoms within 5-10 days of infection, but they can range from 3-20 days. Symptoms happen more quickly when the wound is closer to the central nervous system (CNS), in an environment with less oxygen, or if there are many organisms present.

The most common symptom of tetanus in dogs is muscle stiffness and spasms. This can lead to difficulty moving, swallowing, and breathing. Dogs with tetanus may also have a fever and appear restless or anxious. As the disease progresses, the dog may experience seizures and paralysis. In severe cases, tetanus can be fatal.

The severity of the disease determines the clinical signs. Muscle rigidity and stiffness are typical of the condition and there may be a stiff gait and an outstretched tail in dogs affected by tetanus. A dog that is severely affected may be laterally recumbent or unable to stand. The ears can be held erect, the lips can be drawn back, and the forehead can be wrinkled as a result of the contraction of facial muscles. When the masticatory muscles of the jaw contract, lockjaw can occur. 

How is tetanus in dogs diagnosed?

There is no one specific test for tetanus in dogs. The diagnosis is based on the dog's clinical signs and a history of injury or wound. Detectable wounds are not always present, however.

What is the treatment for tetanus in dogs?

Because of their natural resistance to tetanus, dogs with mild disease or localized tetanus seldom require antitoxin therapy. Clostridial infections are treated with antibiotics in order to reduce the amount of tetanus toxin produced by the bacteria. Various sedatives are used to assist with muscular spasms, contractions, and convulsions when applied with therapy.

What is the prognosis for dogs with tetanus?

The prognosis for dogs with tetanus depends on the severity of the disease. Dogs with mild tetanus may recover without any treatment, but those with more severe cases are less likely to survive. In general, the earlier the treatment is started, the better the prognosis. Usually, improvements are seen within a week of initiating therapy, but complete recovery may take 3-4 weeks.

How can tetanus in dogs be prevented?

Because of their natural, low resistance to tetanus, routine vaccination with tetanus toxoid is not advised for dogs. Making sure to clean wounds promptly and thoroughly in your dog is the best way to prevent tetanus.

In summary, tetanus in dogs is a bacterial infection that can be deadly. The bacteria that cause tetanus, Clostridium tetani, is found all over the world and often enters the body through wounds. Fortunately, dogs are naturally resistant to the tetanus toxin, but if they develop symptoms, treatment is necessary. The prognosis for dogs with tetanus depends on the severity of the disease, but early treatment is crucial for a good outcome. Prevention is best accomplished by keeping wounds clean and free of contamination. Please contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has contracted tetanus.