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Tetanus in Horses

Having horses and watching them explore their environment can be therapeutic. Unfortunately, sometimes they can acquire injuries that could cause further complications or conditions even if minor. Our Gillette vets share some information about tetanus in horses, what the symptoms are and how it can be treated and prevented.

What is Tetanus in Horses?

The bacterium Clostridium tetanii, which can be found almost anywhere in soil and feces, causes tetanus. It can stay in the environment for a long time. It gets into the body through wounds, especially puncture wounds that are dirty. Infection is common in puncture wounds on the sole of the foot.

After ingesting contaminated soil or feces, gastric or intestinal ulcers can transmit the infection to the intestines. This infection can spread through the umbilicus (navel) into foals. Because they are considered "anaerobic" bacteria, the tetanus bacteria do not require oxygen and rapidly multiply in the injured tissues. They produce a toxin known as tetanus toxin, a potent neurotoxin that causes typical tetanus symptoms.

What Are The Symptoms of Tetanus in Horses?

The nerves that control the body's muscles are attacked by the tetanus toxin. Muscle spasms and stiffness become progressively worse as a result of this. This will cause the affected horse will stiffen up, have trouble moving, and have trouble eating. The membrane known as the membrane nictitans, which is located in the inner corner of the eye, begins to protrude across the horse's eye when the horse is startled. Due to facial muscle spasms, the horse may develop an anxious expression and frequently hold its tail straight out.

The symptoms can be made worse by touching, loud noise, or bright light. In advanced cases, the horse may sweat profusely and collapse with spasms, convulsions, and respiratory failure. It is possible that tetanus can initially resemble other conditions like hypocalcemia (lactation tetany).

How is Tetanus in Horses Diagnosed and Treated?

Untreated tetanus cases are potentially fatal which makes early awareness and examination incredibly important. Treatment aims to eliminate the bacteria so that no more toxin is produced and to lessen the effects of the tetanus toxin that has already been produced if it is detected early. Tetanus antitoxin is injected intravenously and intramuscularly in conjunction with large doses of antibiotics, typically penicillin. Occasionally, antitoxin has been injected into the subarachnoid space, which surrounds the spinal cord. To reduce muscular spasms and anxiety, the horse needs to be in a darkened, quiet stall and receive adequate care.

Food should be placed at a height that the horse can easily reach if it can eat and slinging may be necessary for severe circumstances. Using a wide leather or cloth strap suspended from the ceiling or some other support, the horse's weight is suspended in this manner. Additionally, intravenous fluids and/or bladder catheterization may be required. Sadly, if such measures are necessary, recovery is extremely unlikely, and euthanasia for humane reasons is typically recommended.

How Can Tetanus in Horses be Prevented?

Prevention Through Vaccination

Tetanus is a disease that can be easily avoided. All horses and ponies should receive a "tetanus toxoid" vaccination. The initial treatment consists of two injections that are given approximately four to six weeks apart. After that, there is a booster once every year. Toxoid and tetanus antitoxin should be administered simultaneously if your horse is wounded and has not been immunized.

By giving the foals a booster vaccination through their mothers approximately one month before they are born, they can be protected for the first few weeks of their lives. A few weeks after their birth the tetanus antitoxin should be administered to the foal and again at three to four weeks of age if the mare is unvaccinated. Before approximately four months of age, foals cannot respond to vaccines; however, they should begin a course of the tetanus vaccine as soon as possible.

Protecting Your Horse at Home

Tetanus can also be prevented with good first aid. As soon as a wound appears, it should be cleaned, and more severe wounds should be poulticed to encourage drainage. Keeping paddocks, stables, and stable yards safe, clean, and free of potentially harmful materials like old tractor parts, corrugated iron sheets, and building materials is important.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you would like to learn more about how you can protect your horse from conditions such as tetanus, please contact our Gillette veterinary team

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