Tetanus

Kindly composed by our Scottish colleague Dr Katie Gray

The horse is the most susceptible of all domestic animals to Tetanus. Unlike other diseases which we vaccinate against, tetanus does not require contact with other horses. It is caused by a bacterium, Clostridium tetani, which is commonly found in soil contaminated by animal manure. It usually enters the body via an open wound. Even a small wound can allow contamination. As the incubation period is 1-3 weeks the wound may have healed by the time the first signs of the disease are apparent.

The signs of Tetanus are:

  • Vague stiffness in the head & limbs progressing to reluctance to move.
  • Spasm in the muscle of the head & neck leading to difficulty chewing, nostril flaring, erect ears, & a classic startled, wide-eyed expression.
  • Tail-head elevation.
  • Heightened reflex reactions to sudden movement or noise causing violent, whole body spasm.
  • Body temperature may rise to 43ºC.

Tetanus is easy to prevent but difficult to treat. Approximately 90% of unvaccinated horses that develop tetanus die. Horses that do recover, do so following intensive veterinary treatment & nursing care for up to 6 weeks.

Vaccination is a vital part of horse ownership. It is a quick, simple and highly effective practical means for long term protection. If you are unsure of the Tetanus status of your horse you should consider immediate vaccination.

Tetanus Toxoid can be given from 3 months of age. Two vaccines are given 4 weeks apart, then 1 vaccine booster yearly. Ideally give pregnant mares a Tetanus Toxoid 4-6 weeks prior to foaling to help improve the foal’s immunity to Tetanus.

Tetanus Anti Toxin is a short acting vaccine given to foals at birth. This vaccine is also given to horses with recent wounds when the Tetanus status of the horse is unknown. Tetanus Toxoid is given at the same time to commence full coverage (not effective for foals until 3 months of age).