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 Â especially if you are aware of a recent injury or infection - run do not walk to your vet and ask about tetanus.