Tetanus is a toxin-induced neuromuscular disease, hence it is known as tetanus toxemia. The toxin secreted by the bacterium Clostridium tetani blocks the neurotransmitters that inhibit the contraction of muscles, resulting in excessive and uncontrolled muscle spasms. Tetanus can affect most of the mammals, including humans, but dogs are comparatively resistant to it, though not completely immune.
The Clostridium bacteria responsible for tetanus commonly occur in the soil. Wounds may carry these anaerobic bacteria deep into the body where they multiply in the dead tissue and produce the toxin. The toxin affects the nerves and cause stiffness and spasms in the voluntary muscles.
Since dogs are resistant to tetanus to some degree, the disease may have a relatively prolonged incubation period, with the first symptoms appearing after 10 days to two weeks after the injury that had introduced the bacteria into the wound. Stiffness of the neck and jaw muscles, as well as the hind limbs and the area around the wound, may be the initial symptoms. The stiffness may progress to the whole body in a day or two. The dog’s tail may become extended and stiff and the floppy ears may stand erect. The dog may become oversensitive to touch. Muscle spasms get triggered by the slightest of stimuli.
The infected wound has to be cleaned to remove the pus and dead tissue which is home to the multiplying bacteria. Administration of antibiotic drugs can prevent further spread of the infection. But the effect of the toxin already present in the body is not neutralized as easily. The veterinarian may administer tranquilizers to relieve the spasms and muscle relaxants to reduce stiffness. The dog may have to be sedated too.
Nursing care is very important in the early stages of the disease as the dog may be extremely sensitive to stimuli such as loud noises and light. The dog may have to be fed liquefied food through clenched jaws. The veterinarian’s advice regarding nursing care should be strictly followed on bringing the dog home following the treatment in the clinic.