Tetanus – Lockjaw

Veterinarian Reviewed on January 26, 2010 by Dr. Janice Huntingford

Symptoms and Diagnosis

A wound is often the starting point one to two weeks before symptoms show. Puppies teething may also be susceptible. Symptoms of Tetanus include losing the ability to blink, eat, and swallow. A pet that cannot blink will flash a third eyelid that moistens the eye. Sensitivity to light and sound may lead to spasms or seizures. Spasms of facial muscles can cause ears that normally hang low to stand up. Dogs will show “risus sardonicus” or sardonic smile as the facial muscles pull back. The developing infection that affects muscles in the jaw makes eating and swallowing particularly difficult. Pets can develop pneumonia. In advanced cases, the pet suffers from limb stiffness and has problems walking or can no longer walk.

No test exists for the diagnosis of tetanus. The animal’s appearance and history of the wound must be carefully considered.


The veterinarian may use antibiotic therapy to kill the clostridia bacteria. Options include penicillin or metronidazole. Consideration of the side effects with long time use should be taken into account. Cleaning the wound and sedating the pet to control spasms and seizures will also benefit. Administering Acepromazine, a commonly used tranquillizer in veterinary medicine, and Chlorpromazine, for nausea control, can reduce the pet’s sensitivity to light and noise.

Owners of pets suffering from Tetanus can offer supportive care at home. A dark room with little stimulation may help the pet after hospitalization. Offering a liquid diet or slurry can provide nutrition if the patient has clenched jaws. Providing soft bedding adds comfort and helps prevent bedsores. After the first week of treatment, improvement may occur. After one month, pet may recover completely. Although tetanus is rare in dogs and cats, this disease, if left untreated, is highly fatal.

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Read also: Megaesophagus
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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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