Tetanus in Horses

Tetanus proves deadly in 50-75% of cases, so ensure your horse is adequately vaccinated.
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Tetanus proves deadly in 50-75% of cases, so ensure your horse is adequately vaccinated.

It's a scenario that's terrifying to imagine: Your horse's muscles are contracting in spasms, he's arching his back, and his body is rigid. The movements of his eyes and lips are unlike anything you've ever seen, rendering him unfamiliar. Brewing and multiplying deep in a puncture wound you might not even know he has is the dreaded Clostridium tetani, which is already wreaking havoc in his nervous system. He has tetanus. The good news is you're only imaging this, and generally tetanus, a disease long-dreaded in humans and other mammals, is preventable through vigilant vaccination.

Tetanus, often called lockjaw, continues to occur in horses unprotected by vaccination. This disease is caused by toxins produced by C. tetani, a spore-forming bacterium present in the digestive tract of many animals and in soils containing manure. Nat T. Messer IV, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, professor in equine medicine and surgery at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, says these bacteria are always present in the environment.

"To decrease vigilance by not vaccinating is unwise," says Messer. "The only reason horse owners don't hear about cases is because so many horses are vaccinated. The vaccine is very effective, but like any vaccine is not 100% effective. I've seen cases of tetanus in horses that were appropriately vaccinated, and without vaccination there would be a much higher incidence of tetanus than what we see

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Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at https://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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