Tetanus is a bacterial disease which is not just limited to just horses. Horses though tend to be more likely to get the disease due to their environment and likelihood of injury. If left untreated or caught too late, horses can die or have to be put down.
The disease is caused by a type of bacteria, Clostridium tetanii, which is usually found in soil and animal waste. It can be found almost everywhere and can survive for long periods in its environment.
It enters the animal through wounds, especially puncture wounds which may be dirty. This is why horses habiting dirty environments are more prone to the disease. One common site of infection is the sole of the foot. Infection can be obtained via the intestines if an animal eats something which is contaminated with the bacteria. This occurs through gastric or ulcers in the intestine. In foals the bacteria usually enters through the navel.
The clostridium tetanii bacteria are anaerobic, meaning they do not need oxygen to reproduce. This enables them to reproduce in almost any conditions in damaged tissues at place of injury. The bacteria also produces a toxin, which is potent and causes symptoms of the disease. These toxins attack the nerves controlling the muscles in the body.
Toxins connected to the disease cause the muscles of the animal to spasm and get increasingly stiff. An infected animal then becomes increasingly less mobile, while it also has difficulty eating.
Another sign is if the third eyelid of the horse starts to protrude across the eye. This occurs often when the animal is frightened. The tail, when held out straight, should cause the horse to become anxious if infected. This is due to the facial muscle spasm they are experiencing.
Animals also have an increased sensitivity to their senses. Loud noises, bright lights or the feel of certain objects/things can increase symptoms. In extreme cases, where the horse is left untreated, the horse may collapse in a fit/with spasms and die from respiratory failure.
Unfortunately most cases of the disease result in the death of the animal. Early diagnosis is key and if found early enough the bacteria can be destroyed to prevent the production of the deadly toxins associated with the disease.
Antibiotics, often penicillin, are used with a Tetanus Antitoxin applied through the vein or muscle of the horse. In very extreme cases of the disease, slinging may be required. The administering of other intravenous fluids and even catheterization of the bladder may be needed if your animal is well into the disease’s cycle. Chances of the animal recovering from this disease is unlikely, therefore putting it down is the usual choice.
One thing about Tetanus, is that it can very easily be prevented. A vaccine can be given to horses, tetanus toxoid, to help prevent the disease. This entails two injections been administered up to 6 weeks apart. This vaccine is strengthened with boosters, given every two years.
Younger animals, horses, cannot be given the vaccine while under 4 months old. A Tetanus antitoxin can be given to them soon after birth, to help prevent infection. Their mother’s colostrum also strengthens their immune system and in turn helps prevent the disease.
Any open wounds on an animal should be cleaned regularly to help prevent infection. Vigilance is key and keeping an eye on your animal’s condition should be a priority at all times. All sheds, grazing paddocks, stables and yards should be cleaned regularly and kept clear of sharp, dangerous objects. This is a good way to protect your animal from cutting itself.