Tetanus is a killer, but it can be prevented with routine vaccination.
Tetanus (also known as lockjaw) is caused by an anaerobic bacteria found in the soil and faeces. The environment in which horses live means that they are particularly susceptible to contracting this horrible disease. Infection usually occurs through wounds, in particular small puncture wounds that sometimes are difficult to see.
Clinical signs of tetanus include spasms, stiffness, anxiety, perspiration, extended neck and head, prolapse of the third eyelid, retracted lips, and an elevated tail. Spasm of the facial muscles often give the horse a frightened expression with flared nostrils, ears back and eyes wide. Unless caught immediately, the outcome is usually death. Horses that have incubated tetanus to the extent of having difficulty breathing, or can no longer stand have a very poor prognosis.
What can you do to prevent tetanus?
Vaccination is vital!
A primary injection is given and then 4 to 8 weeks a booster injection is administered. After that it is just a yearly vaccination and can be given together with the flu vaccine if you wish. If you have lapsed in your vaccinations and you notice a wound ask your vet to administer a TET as a precaution.
Can’t I just give a tetanus anti-serum when my horse gets injured?
No, there is no substitute for routine vaccination. If however your horse is not properly vaccinated when the known tetanus risk is high (when there are wounds, foot abscesses, emergency procedures, gelding etc.) ensure he gets a TAT injection, then start a proper vaccination regime immediately.
Are foals and young horses more at risk?
Yes, recent studies have now revealed that young horses are more susceptible to the dangers of tetanus than older horses and are at a greater risk of death due to the disease.
Studies carried out by Belgian researchers at the University of Liege have proved that the tetanus anti-serum (TAT) usually administered to foals with their first days of life, is not 100% effective in preventing tetanus. The University compared case studies of 30 horses and donkeys admitted to the university’s clinic between 1991 and 2006.
They found the following;
84% of the animals were 5 or less than 5 years old
77% of these died or were euthanised within eight days of diagnosis, compared to 20% of those older than 5.
32% was the total survival rate of all equines in the study.
The average age of survivors was 6.7 years old, that of the non-survivors was less than half that age, at 3.2 years. None of the equines had been properly vaccinated, according to the study, although some of them had received TAT preventively (before castration, for example).
For newborn foals a TAT should be given after birth followed by a primary vaccination at 4-6 months of age, a booster 30-60 days later, and then yearly boosters throughout it’s life.
Pregnant mares should be vaccinated three to five weeks before foaling, not only because retained placentas account for a source of tetanus but also because it ensures the passage of antibodies through the colostrum to the newborn foal.
ERF have a policy of always starting a Tetanus and Flu course to each new equine they take in if there is not proof of it’s vaccination history.
Don’t delay, vaccinate your equine today!