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Can dogs get tetanus? Should I be worried if my dog cuts his paw on something rusty? Would he need an injection, as a person would?

Graham Finch advices…

Yes, dogs can get tetanus, although it is a rare infection. I recall seeing one case and that was at veterinary school more than 30 years ago now! Tetanus is a clostridial disease – the clostridial bacteria being present in soil. This gains entry via wounds and then toxins produced by the bug affect the nerves and, by association, muscles as well. Typically, this can affect the jaw nerves and muscles, causing paralysis, which gives the disease its colloquial name – lockjaw.

In the early stages of the disease, this produces stiffness and pain in the limbs. It takes several weeks for signs to appear, by which time any wound may have healed. If left untreated, the disease becomes progressive and goes on to affect the respiratory muscles, resulting in paralysis and death. Reports indicate a variable mortality with estimates between 52 to 90 per cent of dogs surviving infections, though this variability will be affected by small case numbers.

Treatment involves supportive care and intensive nursing; hence the case I saw was referred to a specialist centre, as the patient may be unable to stand or eat. The good news is that antibiotics such as metronidazole can be very effective, and the case I saw made a full recovery after about 10 days of hospitalisation. There is no vaccine for our canine patients. I have read about tetanus antitoxin being used, but I have no experience of this and reports suggest this may or may not be helpful.

This is a rare condition and I could not find any investigations into the incidence of the disease in the UK. Compare this to horses in Morocco, where vaccination does not routinely occur, and there were 56 cases reported between 2003-2004. Horses are a species that can be susceptible to tetanus and so a vaccine has been in use in the UK for decades now. This is one reason I do recommend a short course of antibiotics for dogs with wounds.

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