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Tetanus is a highly fatal disease, caused by a bacterium called Clostridium tetani, that affects the nervous system of all animals. It's rare in dogs because they are fairly resistant to the toxin. Those that are affected are usually teething puppies or dogs of any age who have injuries around the mouth.

How Does Tetanus Enter A Dog's Body?

Favourite ways for the bacteria to sneak into a dog's body are through:

  • puncture wounds such as those caused by nails, splinters or insect bites
  • burns
  • ruptures in the skin
  • spots where needles were injected.

What Can Tetanus Do To Dogs?

The tetanus toxin heightens the chemical signal from the nerve to the muscle. This causes:

  • tightening up, contracting or spasming body muscles
  • locking of the jaw i.e. lockjaw
  • loss of power in vital muscles needed for normal breathing

And without the ability to breathe, it can lead to death.

How Long Do Tetanus Symptoms Take To Appear?

It can take anywhere from two days to two months between the time a dog is exposed to the bacteria and the first sign of tetanus symptoms. However, you will usually see the first symptoms within 14 days.

In the first one to seven days of symptoms, the muscle spasms often expand from the wound area through the entire body in a set of continuous muscle contractions. This will make the dog uneasy, irritable an give them headaches.

How Do I Treat Tetanus?

Tetanus requires intensive veterinary treatment. This usually involves hospitalization, anti-tetanus serum, antibiotics and lots of nursing.

If you live in a high risk area for tetanus, vaccination against tetanus may be an option. Speak to your veterinarian for further advice on this.

Additional Information

Veterinary Partner
The Pet Health Library: Tetanus in Pets (Lock Jaw)
Dr. Wendy C. Brooks, DVM, DipABVP

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