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Tetanus in Horses

Tetanus is a bacterial disease that commonly affects horses due to their active lifestyle and time spent outdoors. In this article, our veterinarians in Hohenwald explain the symptoms of tetanus in horses, advise when to vaccinate your horse against tetanus and suggest ways to prevent your horse from getting infected with this disease.

What is tetanus in horses?

Tetanus is a bacterial disease that typically impacts the mobility, immune system, and sometimes the horse's brain once it is contracted. While this infection is a concern for all pet owners, tetanus is most prevalent in horses as it is commonly found in soil and fecal matter. 

Horses often spend most of their lives in the outdoors, either in a fenced-off field or barn stable. It is not uncommon for horses to accidentally scratch themselves on old fencing or barn equipment. Contrary to popular belief, rust on these metals does not cause tetanus. Once a horse scratches itself, the wound can become infected by soil, feces, or other elements of the horse's environment that carry the bacteria for tetanus. 

Horse owners need to understand the causes and symptoms of tetanus, its treatment, and how to prevent their horses from getting it, given how common it is.

Causes & Symptoms of Tetanus in Horses

As previously mentioned, tetanus is often contracted through contact with contaminated soil and animal feces. The bacterium responsible for tetanus is called Clostridium Tetani, which enters the bloodstream and causes the disease. Horses commonly contract tetanus through puncture wounds in the soft tissue on their legs or the bottom of their hooves.

So, you know how tetanus is contracted, but how do you identify tetanus in your horse? Tetanus symptoms in horses vary, growing in severity and impacting health over time if left untreated.

Some of the common tetanus symptoms in horses include:

  • Seizures
  • Difficulty moving and eating
  • Swelling of the eyes
  • Rapidly appearing fever
  • Muscle stiffness (your horse swaying or experiencing lock-jaw)

If you notice any of these symptoms in your horse, contact your veterinarian immediatelyThey may have tetanus or another medical condition requiring prompt treatment.

How is tetanus in horses prevented & treated?

Tetanus is a preventable condition in horses. A vaccine is available for horses that should be administered at 12 weeks old, with annual boosters. Pregnant mothers can also be vaccinated for tetanus one month before the foal is born to protect foals during the first few weeks of life. Your veterinarian will monitor your horse's condition following the vaccine administration to minimize any potential reactions.

An unvaccinated horse that is wounded is at risk for tetanus and should be taken to the vet right away. Your vet will usually administer a tetanus antitoxin to reduce the risk of the horse contracting the disease. The wounds should be cleaned and disinfected as soon as possible. The injured horse should be kept far from any farm equipment, fencing, dirty stables, or other animals until it is taken to the vet to be treated for its wound.

It is essential to treat horses as fast as possible once they are wounded, especially if the cut has been exposed to potentially infected substances such as soil or feces. If left untreated, tetanus can lead to death in horses quickly. However, if the disease is caught early, the veterinarian will administer appropriate medication to kill the Clostridium Tetani bacteria in the horse's bloodstream. This will prevent the toxin's reproduction inside the horse's body.

Antibiotics, penicillin, and tetanus antitoxins are the most common treatments for tetanus in horses. 

How to Help Your Horse With Tetanus

If you suspect your horse has contracted tetanus or is at risk of contracting it, seek veterinary care right away. Other than medical treatment, you can do a few things to make your horse more comfortable. Some of these things include keeping the horse in a dark, quiet stable to minimize anxiety. You can also offer them food at an easily reachable height to see if they still have their appetite. 

If you're unsure how to help your horse while they're recovering from tetanus, consult your veterinarian.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you need to vaccinate your horse against tetanus? Our Hohenwald vets are here to answer your questions and book an appointment.

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