Tetanus in Horses

Do you vaccinate your horse again tetanus?
We have recently seen a case of tetanus in the practice, who presented with a third eyelid protrusion. Initially, this was the only sign he showed and he had no obvious wounds. Over the next few days, his condition deteriorated – he became incredibly stiff, found it very hard to eat and move around, was uncomfortable and sweating constantly. Luckily, as we write this, he seems to have turned a corner and we are hopeful that he is going to pull though, but many horses will not be so lucky.

Tetanus is a fatal disease which kills many horses but is totally PREVENTABLE with a simple vaccination. Any horse can catch tetanus, even if your horse just lives out in the field, it is important to vaccinate them.

What is tetanus?
Tetanus is a bacterial infection that can affect ANY animal, but horses are particularly susceptible. The bacterium that causes tetanus, Clostridium Tetani, is found in the soil and the usual route of infection is through a cut or wound. Tetanus is a DEADLY disease and many horses that contract the disease will not pull through. The bacterium produces a toxin that affects the nervous system and causes muscle spasm throughout the body.

Clinical signs of tetanus
Third Eyelid Protrusion
Abnormally high tail carriage
Stiff stilted gait Inability to chew/eat due to stiff jaw muscle (“lock-jaw”)
Hypersensitivity to noise/bright lights/touch

Treatments of tetanus
There is NO treatment for tetanus. It is down to the horse to fight off the infection and the outcome depends on how much toxin the disease has released into the body by the time the infection is caught.

Vets can offer supportive care, but sadly many horses will lose the fight. Horses with tetanus are given an anti-toxin to try and reduce the amount of the toxin in their bodies, antibiotics to try and kill any tetanus bacteria still present and prevent any secondary infections, but usually by the time they have clinical signs, they have so much of the deadly toxin in their bodies that it is too late to save them.