Tetanus awareness

ilovepocoMarch 30, 2010

After thinking that my dogÂs infected toe was healing nicely, Geyser took a turn for the worse last Saturday, and it turns out that he has tetanus. It is rare in dogs, so rare that they donÂt even offer a canine vaccination. Most dogs have resistance to it, but a few donÂt. My vet nailed the diagnosis based on the look on my dog's face, even though sheÂs only seen one other case in 35 years. The veterinary referral hospital where we took Geyser for treatment sees 1-2 cases a year.

Tetanus results from an infection caused by a bacteria that is common in soil world-wide. Symptoms typically show up 10-14 days after exposure via a cut or puncture wound which may be (as it was in our case) so small that it is never found. Once established in a dog, horse, or human, the bacteria release a neurotoxin that destroys nerve cells. Starting at the head, this results in the classic facial grimace (known as "risus sardonicus"), loss of control of the tongue, jaw, and throat muscles (hence the other name for this disease, "lockjaw"), problems with blinking and focusing on objects, panting, and anxiety. Once the toxin gets established in various parts of the body, the animal may also experience difficulty walking or breathing. Death can result. When the tetanus antitoxin is given, no further nerve destruction occurs, but it can take weeks to months for damaged nerves to regrow and normal functionality to fully return.

In our case, we went in one week from a vibrantly healthy 2-year-old dog in peak physical and mental condition to a lethargic, confused invalid. Although heÂs interested in food, he has lost the ability to lick, chew, and swallow normally, so he needs to be fed pureed food every 4 hours via a syringe. WeÂre hoping that he will recover fairly quickly since we caught this thing early and obtained excellent (though very expensive) care. His prognosis is very good, but we all have a long road ahead of us.

This is an awful disease that you donÂt want to ever have to deal with. Wikipedia is a great place to start for more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetanus.

My mission now is to tell everyone I know to please check with your doctor and make sure that you and all your family members are up-to-date on your tetanus vaccinations. This is a rare but totally preventable disease in humans! If your pet presents with anxiety, complete loss of interest in eating, and a tortured look on his or her face  especially if you are aware of a recent injury or infection - run do not walk to your vet and ask about tetanus.


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Thanks for the information - so sorry about your boy. That IS quite rare - koodos (sp?) to your vet on the diagnosis.

I just saw that old movie "Dr. Sardonicus". Didn't know until i saw the movie what the word meant.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 12:14PM
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There was a pet blog in the Houston Chronicle about a lady who has a dog that was just diagnosed with Tetanus.

The original symptoms presented where those of distemper, and the dog was given a brand new treatment for distemper before the Tetanus was diagnosed.

I had no idea dogs could get Tetanus. This sure opened my eyes.

Here is a link that might be useful: Dog has Rare Tetanus Infection blog

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 12:49PM
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I had no idea dogs got tetanus so I wish you luck with geyser and I hope he makes a good recovery. I always keep up with my tetanus shots and I think especially anyone who gardens should do this since you're digging in the soil and can have cuts on your hands etc. I remember my doctor telling me he worked in India for a while where he saw tetanus and they had to literally knock people's teeth out to get a feeding tube into the mouth because of the lockjaw, it's a terrible disease.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 12:59PM
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It's pretty common in horses, and again totally preventable in them, too. I am a professional g'house operator. IOW I make my living in dirt. So, it's one immunisation I try to stay current on.

It didn't hurt my father related to me that when he was a child (before tetanus shots were given) he watched a child-hood friend die of it after his friend was burnt from an accident with firecrackers. Any noise would set his little friend off in spasms, and his back would arch up clean off the bed. What a memory to live with.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 1:02PM
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I hope he recovers quickly. DH and I both keep out immunizations up to date. I actually had a doctor tell me I should *not* be immunized because the risk is so small (in his opinion). Well, I've snagged my leg more than once on old barbed wire that is half buried on our property, so I don't consider the risk small!

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 5:09PM
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yes, in horse vaccinations, it's hard to avoid the tetanus part

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 9:33PM
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Luckily tetanus is not confusing, just rare. It doesn't mimic any other disease so once you figure out what's going on, it's an easy diagnosis. Not an easy fix though. I hope your dog does well with treatment.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2010 at 10:56PM
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