28 Feb 2013

Tetanus: An Old Nemesis Rears it’s Ugly Head

0 Comment

I received a call from a stable that had a 2yr. old filly who was acting very strange.  She had assumed a stiff and stilted stance, was reluctant to move, could not eat or drink, and her eyes were looking “odd.”    Possibly the only good thing about being an old, or should I say, “more experienced” vet, is I have just about seen everything.  I felt I knew what the problem was from the trainer’s report but obviously needed to look for myself to confirm my fears.

Upon arrival, the filly was indeed stiff gated with a wide and stilted stance.  Her head and neck were extended with a wad of hay held between her teeth that was dripping with saliva.  The filly could not chew or get any more hay into her mouth.  She was very tense and reactive to sound and noise.  The clinchers in this scenario were a rapid “flicking” of her eyelids when her head was raised and jaws that were absolutely “locked”…. a veritable give away.  By now you probably suspect she has contracted Tetanus.  In my opinion, this filly was standing and still alive only for the fact that she had received a Tet Toxoid injection shortly after weaning.  But by being transferred between farms and different training schedules, the young filly’s boosters and yearly vaccines had fallen through the cracks.

With this case now in the hospital, several young vets and technicians could not make the diagnosis; only because they had never seen the disease manifested.  It is also slightly odd that she had no discoverable punctures, abscesses cuts or any injuries, which is sometimes the case.  Now I feel they will never forget this malady and hopefully be able to recognize it in the future.

“Rosey” will be kept on supportive care for probably two weeks if indeed she stays vertical and lives.  She can still swallow.  Her main problem is that all her muscles are in “tetanic contraction,”   so the old and often used “ACE” is perhaps her best friend.   She will be receiving soaked pellet “gruel” through an NG tube to keep her well nourished, IV fluids to keep her fully hydrated, antibiotics, and a heavy dosage of sedatives, muscle relaxants and general pain meds.  Unfortunately, with the best care possible she has very little hope and her percentages for survival and recovery are small.

I feel that a horse that contracts Tetanus with no history of even a single vaccine will die even with the best of care.  Please never skip Tetanus vaccines.  They are included in many combination vaccines and are cheap and readily available to horse owners.  Hopefully, this is the only Tetanus case you will ever  see.

Was this helpful? Share it!