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Identifying Dogs with Tetanus Bacillus

Tetanus Bacillus also known as Lockjaw is an uncommon canine disease that is caused by a bacteria called Clostridium tetani. This is a bacteria that can be found in low oxygen environments like soil, as well as dead tissue from wounds and in the intestines of mammals. Because it can survive without oxygen this bacteria can last a long time in its environment by creating spores. When an injured animal for example comes into contact with those spores a toxin is released in its body. The dog then has symptoms typical of the disease as a result of those toxins. Outdoor dogs are more likely to get this infection. How bad the symptoms are depends on how many toxins are released in his body but it is a serious medical condition and dogs presenting with symptoms should get immediate medical help as this can lead to death.


Symptoms of Tetanus

The symptoms will start after those spores have entered the wound

and released their toxins. They include;

Stiffness of the muscles around the wound.

The dog becomes stiff all over


Gait becomes uncoordinated


At this point the symptoms can disappear if the infections stays localized to the wound. However in some cases the disease can escalate and if the toxins enter the nervous system you might see symptoms that include;


Forehead becomes wrinkled

Drooling a lot

Pain when passing urine

Difficulty breathing because chest muscles have stiffened


Appearing to be grinning

Ears stay stiff and erect

Finds eating increasingly hard

Progressively worse stiffening on the body

Tail is hard and stiff

Jaw muscles stiffening make opening his mouth hard

Muscles spasms


Death because he cannot breathe

Diagnosing Lockjaw

When you take you dog to the vet, which you should do straight away if you suspect they have Lockjaw you will need to give the vet a medical history for your dog. He or she will ask about any wounds or injuries they may have got recently and will then perform a physical exam on your dog. Lab tests will also be done including a blood count, a urinalysis and a biochemistry profile. If the blood count shows a white blood cell count that is too high or too low this indicates an infection. The biochemistry reveals if there are high levels of creatine phosphokinase, an enzyme that is mostly found in muscles, the heart and the brain. When Lockjaw is the cause of the stiffness this enzyme increases. Samples of fluid and tissue from the injury will also be sent for culture testing at a lab to confirm the tetanus bacillus presence.

Treatment Options for Dogs with Tetanus Bacillus

Treatment depends on how severe the dog's infection is as if it is too advanced he will need to be hospitalized and there may be three to four weeks of care required. If your dog cannot eat by himself a feeding tube will be given to him and intravenous fluids too so that he does not get dehydrated. He will be overly sensitive to light, touch and sound so limiting these for this time is important to not stress him or overwhelm him.

In most severe cases dogs are kept sedated for much of the time to stop the symptoms getting worse. To prevent or limit convulsions and muscle spasms drugs will be administered and this will also help him to remain lying for longer periods. Your dog would need soft bedding and during the day needs turning over at regular times to prevent the side effects from lying for so long such as ulcers or bed sores.

If breathing is a problem too a tube will be inserted into his trachea to help him breathe until he is able to do it on his own. Some dogs also require a hole to be made in the trachea to stop asphyxia. Dogs who cannot pass urine have a catheter put in and those who are constipated will be given an enema to relieve it. Part of his treatment will include drugs to prevent the toxin in his body binding further to nerve cells and antibiotics will be given either by injection or orally to control the infection. The wound too will likely be treated with a topical antibiotic.

In some cases treatment can be carried out at home at some point. Your dog would need a sterile environment to recover in though and you will need to be ready to dedicate some time to his recovery and care. Discuss this with your vet.

Recovering at Home


When your dog has been treated at a clinic to the point where he can be released and cared for back home you can help him recover from the infection and its side effects. Make sure you are clear about your vets instruction on medications, tubes and so on. As well as regularly turning your dog every few hours you will need to keep the injury clear and observe it. If it changes in appearance or ulcers appear call your vet. Your dog will be feeling sore and part of the medications your vet gives you will probably be pain management too. Keep your dog away from the rest of the family, somewhere calm and quiet. When he needs a trip outside to urine or pass stools keep it short and slow.

You will need to return to the vet a few times with your dog to check on his recovery process. The more severe the disease was the harder recovery can be. For a full recovery be prepared for a long slow process as this takes a lot out of a dog.