Learning about the effects of Tetanus in dogs helps you recognize the early warning signs and ensures your dog receives prompt veterinary attention.

What is tetanus in dogs?

Tetanus (sometimes called lockjaw) is an infection caused by a bacterium called Clostridium tetani. It generally enters the body through a cut and then the bacteria produce toxins that affect the nervous system, resulting in muscle spasms. These contractions, when affecting the jaw muscles, give the disease the name ‘lockjaw’.

The bacteria that cause tetanus are widespread in the environment, including in soil. Cleaning of wounds is essential for reducing the risk of tetanus.

Humans can also get tetanus, but in the UK, most people will receive tetanus vaccines as part of the standard course of jabs.

How do dogs contract tetanus?

As tetanus is so prevalent in the environment, it can be contracted through any open skin. In general, the tetanus-causing bacteria are particularly partial to low oxygen conditions. For this reason, it is of particular concern following deep puncture wounds.

This is why a rusty nail is often cited as a tetanus risk – not because rust carries the bacteria, but because rust can form in outdoor, dirty environments, and nails can cause puncture wounds.

But tetanus can take several days to develop, so it is not always possible to determine the initial injury as it may have healed by the time clinical signs are apparent – as seen in this case.

What are the symptoms of tetanus in dogs?

The clinical signs of tetanus in dogs will usually be related to the toxin’s effect on muscles.

Muscle stiffness and difficulty moving the jaw, neck, or face is characteristic of tetanus. This may also lead to drooling due to an inability to swallow.

If the lips are affected, the dog may develop a rictus expression, with the teeth exposed. Pricking of the ears and furrowing of the skin between the ears is also commonly seen.

Depending on the disease’s course, muscle stiffness may also affect the legs and tail, causing a stiff gait or difficulty walking.

Tetanus can be deadly if left untreated, as it eventually affects the respiratory and heart muscles.

How do vets treat tetanus in dogs?

The sooner tetanus is treated, the better. Treatment includes both tetanus antitoxins and antibiotics to treat the bacteria and the toxins it produces as well as management of clinical signs.

If the dog is unable to swallow, they will need intravenous hydration and may require assisted feeding, and muscle relaxants can help with the spasming caused by the bacterial toxins.

How can I prevent tetanus in my dog?

Dogs can be vaccinated for tetanus but due to its rarity, this is not standard practice in the UK. The best way to prevent tetanus is to make sure to inspect and clean any wounds your pet acquires thoroughly

Is Tetanus in my dog an emergency?

If your dog shows signs of tetanus, it is a medical emergency. If your daytime vet is closed, look for help at your closest Vets Now clinic.

If you have any questions about the best way to care for your pet’s wounds, you can contact our Video Vets Now telehealth service for advice.