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Health & Wellness

Tetanus in dogs: how to test for and cure it

An explanation on the condition that causes stiffness.

Tetanus, a condition caused by a toxin produced by bacteria, doesn’t commonly affect dogs, Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian, says. But, caring for pets means preparing for those “what if” moments — so we’re explaining everything you need to know about tetanus in dogs. 

What is tetanus in dogs? 

Tetanus is a condition caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani, Dr. McCullough says. It spreads through exposure to a dog’s open wound — and once contact happens between the bacteria and a wound, a toxin is produced. 

“Clostridium tetani form spores when in the environment, which can survive for long periods of time,” Dr. McCullough explains. “Increased moisture and other ideal conditions allow the bacteria to grow.”

She adds that tetanus is not spreadable between infected dogs and other animals or people. So while it’s unfortunate if a dog bites you or someone you know, don’t worry — tetanus will not spread. 

Tetanus symptoms in dogs

A dog’s tetanus symptoms depend on the severity of their case. “Some dogs may develop muscle rigidity, stiff gait and an outstretched tail,” Dr. McCullough says. “In severe cases, affected dogs may have difficulty standing.”

It’s a good idea to contact your veterinarian if you spot the signs of tetanus in your dog. Veterinarians often diagnose this condition through a physical examination, listening to information from the pet parents, blood work and measuring the activity of a dog’s heart and muscles, Dr. McCullough adds. 

RELATED: Dog neck and back pain: symptoms and treatments


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Treatment options for tetanus in dogs

Your veterinarian can recommend the best treatment options for tetanus. Dr. McCullough mentions that most treatments include antitoxin administration, antibiotics, muscle relaxants, sedatives and, in severe cases, intensive nursing care. 

There are some ways to make your pup comfortable while they’re recovering from tetanus at home. Dr. McCullough encourages pet parents to follow their veterinarian’s recommendations for giving medication, caring for a dog’s wounds and feeding. She adds that your pup will most likely benefit from a quiet, dark and soft place to recover and avoid overstimulation. 

Dogs’ tetanus symptoms typically improve within a week, Dr. McCullough says. Most dogs have a complete recovery within 3 to 4 weeks, too, she adds. 

Do dogs need tetanus shots? 

Tetanus shots don’t protect dogs against the condition. “There is no need for tetanus vaccinations in dogs because they are naturally resistant to the toxin, and the disease is uncommon,” Dr. McCullough says. 

To recap: Tetanus isn’t spreadable between infected dogs and other animals or people. However, you should still take precautions if your pup is infected. In the unfortunate event that an infected dog bites you, you won’t contract tetanus, but you should still take proper hygiene and care steps. Stiff muscles and gait, as well as difficulty standing and a stiff tail, are telltale signs that your pup has tetanus. 

Running, jumping and chasing all the toys are signature dog activities — and tetanus shouldn’t get in the way of the fun. With these tips, you’ll know to reach out to your veterinarian if you notice your dog’s tetanus symptoms. 

Photo by Katarzyna Korobczuk on Unsplash

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