Monday, June 30, 2008

How likely is a horse to get tetanus?

My Quarter Horse got a couple of small cuts on his legs once. This is a fairly common occurance with horses, so I didn't think much about it. I cleaned the cuts and treated them with a spray-on medication but for some reason, I had a bad feeling about them and while my farrier was there, I asked him to take a look to see what he thought. My farrier suggested I call the, needless to say, I called the vet. (I wondered if I was overreacting or worrying for nothing. I had never called the vet for minor cuts before)

From that experience, I was very surprised when I learned that horses are more prone to tetanus than any other domestic animal! There are 2 reasons for this: 1) Horses don't have the "right" immunities to the bacteria that causes tetanus and 2) Horses are notorious for always getting injuries (even small ones) that are highly prone to tetanus.

Tetanus, (also known as lockjaw), doesn't just come from stepping on the rusty nail that your mom always warned you about. Tetanus can infect any wound that has scabbed over or is somehow cut off from fresh air. That's because tetanus grows where there is little oxygen. This can be any wound: large or small, on the body or in the hoof!

Another scary part is that your horse could actually harbor the tetanus for several weeks before showing any signs of the disease. This means that your horse could get a minor cut, the cut heal over, you think nothing more of it and weeks later, Bam! your horse is suddenly extremely sick. By that time, it may be too late to do anything about it.

Early signs of tetanus are colic and body stiffness. Next comes spasms that can be all over the body, including the jaw. The next sure sign of tetanus is what's called protrusion of the third eyelid. The horse then has a very difficult time breathing. The body stiffness will increase all over to the point that the horse is very rigid, with the neck and tail stretched out. The stiffness in the jaw will increase until they can no longer open or close their mouth, (hence the term lockjaw). Finally the horse will go down and die of respiratory failure.

For all of these reasons, I can't stress enough: It is extremely important to keep horses current on tetanus shots and boosters.

Here is a recommended schedule for the tetanus vaccine:

  1. Pregnant mares - 3-6 weeks before giving birth
  2. Foals - 3 - 4 months old
  3. Yearlings & Adult Horses - Annually

Give booster tetanus shots if your horse gets an injury or has surgery (even minor surgery or if your stud colt gets gelded) and it has been longer than 6 months since their last tetanus shot.

A tetanus shot is so cheap (around $10 - $15 dollars) and so easy to give (some vets will sell you the vaccine and let you give the shot yourself) so it is very easy to protect your horse from this disease.

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Please feel free to email me your horse questions and I'll do my best to answer them or at least point you to someone or someplace that can. (Scroll down to the "About Me" section and click on "View my complete profile" to send me an email) I look forward to hearing from you! ~Melanie