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  • August 17, 2023 2 min read

    Tetanus in Horses: Everything You Need to Know 

    Tetanus is a bacterial disease that affects the nervous system and is caused by the spore-forming bacterium Clostridium Tetani. Horses are among the most vulnerable species to contract tetanus, and it is not only a painful disease but also often fatal. The good news is that tetanus is preventable via vaccine. This article delves into the causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment of tetanus in horses.

    Causes and Transmission

    Tetanus bacteria are commonly found abundantly in soil as well as the intestinal tract and manure of horses and other animals. Horses can contract tetanus through wounds, punctures, or cuts. The bacteria that causes tetanus thrives in a low oxygen environment, so puncture wounds or deep lacerations often create the ideal environment for tetanus to flourish. The bacteria can then produce toxins that affect the horse's nervous system, leading to painful muscle stiffness, spasms, and other severe symptoms.


    The symptoms of tetanus in horses can develop within days to weeks after infection, but typically within 3 to 21 days after infection. Early signs may include stiffness in the neck and difficulty swallowing, followed by muscle spasms that lead to a characteristic "sawhorse" stance. Other symptoms include elevated heart rate, difficulty in breathing and eating, and sensitivity to light and noise. As the infection progresses, the horse may experience seizures and collapse. 


    If a horse does contract tetanus, immediate veterinary intervention is crucial. Treatment often involves a combination of medications, supportive care, and wound management. Antitoxin therapy can help neutralise the toxins produced by the bacteria. Muscle relaxants and sedatives may be used to alleviate muscle spasms and reduce pain. In severe cases, horses may require intensive care and hospitalisation. 


    Preventing tetanus is crucial, as the disease can be challenging to treat once symptoms appear. Horse owners can take several steps to minimise the risk of tetanus:

    • Vaccination: Regular tetanus vaccination is the most effective preventive measure. Horses should receive a primary series of vaccinations, followed by booster shots at recommended intervals. 
    • Tetanus antitoxin can provide short-term protection against the disease. Administering tetanus toxoid to horses that have suffered wounds or injuries can help boost their immunity.

    It is important to remember that prevention of tetanus is incredibly important. Treatment for tetanus is often intensive and expensive and the majority of unvaccinated horses will not survive the disease. If your horse is unvaccinated or due for a booster, it is best to contact your veterinarian for advice. 

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