Tetanus is a fatal disease that affects the nervous system of all animals. However, it tends to be rare in dogs because they are fairly resistant to the tetanus bacteria. Those that are affected are usually teething puppies or dogs with injuries around the mouth. Tetanus most commonly enters the body through puncture wounds, burns and ruptures in the skin.

The tetanus toxin heightens the chemical signal from the nerve to the muscle. This causes tightening up, contracting or spasm in body muscles, locking of the jaw (hence “lockjaw”) and loss of power in vital muscles needed for normal breathing. So without the ability to breathe, it can lead to death.

It can take anywhere from two days to two months between the time a dog is exposed to the bacteria and the onset of symptoms. However, you will usually see the first symptoms within 14 days. In the first one to seven days of symptoms, muscle spasms often expand from the wound area through the entire body in a set of continuous muscle contractions. The dog will be uneasy, irritable and likely to have headaches.

Tetanus requires intensive veterinary treatment. This usually involves hospitalisation, anti-tetanus serum, antibiotics and lots of nursing. If you live in a high risk area, anti-tetanus vaccination may be an option. Speak to your vet for further advice.