Tetanus or "Lock Jaw"
in Dogs and Cats
How we treat different medical problems in pets; What to Expect        FoxNest Hospital       About our No Kill Shelter       
The History of Veterinary Medicine         The Human-Animal Bond    
There is a complete site map at the bottom of this page

The bacteria Clostridium has many different subgroups, each of which can cause a different disease.  Clostridiums are responsible for many cases of food poisoning, for example, and another type of Clostridium causes Botulism. 

Tetanus is caused by a neuro-toxin made by the germ known as Clostridium tetani.  This germ can survive in the soil and if it gets in a cut or wound, the germ will multiply and then release it's toxin.

Dogs and cats seem to have a fair amount of natural resistance to Tetanus, but we they are still susceptible.  Usually the cause is a wound that is ignored.

The toxin released by the bacteria often nums or paralyzes the muscles near the wound... but the toxin is spread by the lymphatics and circulatory system throughout the body causing any of the following:

Pain during urination
Excessive drooling
Wrinkled forehead
Grinning appearance
Stiff and hard tail
Continuously erect and stiff ears
Progressive stiffness of the body muscles, giving the animal a sawhorse appearance
Difficulty eating
Breathing difficulty (due to stiffness of the chest muscles)
Difficulty opening the mouth (due to stiffness of the jaw muscles)
Whole body muscle spasms with sudden external movement, sound, or touch
Death due to inability to breathe

There isn't a vaccine available for dogs and cats.

There is an anti-toxin, but using it is somewhat dangerous as it may cause an anaphylaxic reaction.


The tentative diagnosis is made mostly by observing the very stiff muscles and other symptoms.
Other clues include a very high or abnormally low white blood cell count, an elevation in the blood of an enzyme called creatine phosphokinase (CPK), and the presence of myoglobin in the urine.
The definitive diagnosis is from culturing the organism from the wound.


Treatment involves high doses of combinations of penicillin G, tetracycline, and metronidazole antibiotics, control of the seizures, and lots of supportive care to include IV Fluids. 

Sometimes the muscles spasms in this disease are so severe the patient can't swallow and a feeding tube must be inserted into the esophagus.  And sometimes the muscle spasms are bad enough to cause heart attacks.

In milder and moderate cases, treatment is often sucessful but requires up to several weeks of expensive hospitalization.  The more severe cases usually die.

On This Page:

A few quick notes about tetanus... an extremely serious diseases that sometimes affects dogs and cats.

The most important take home point is that wounds need to be cleaned and treated.

Other diseases of the brain and central nervous system that commonly affect dogs and cats.
(There is a complete directory
of links at the bottom of the page)

Our introductory page about neural diseases

Rabies in dogs and cats

Canine distemper (CDV)

Fip: Feline Infectious Peritonitis

Coonhound Paralysis (Polyradiculoneuritis,Tick Paralysis, and other diseases that cause paralysis



Diseases and Problems of the Brain, Seizures

Granulomatous meningo-

Diskospondylitis (Intervertebral Disk Disease) Also wobbler's syndrome

Website Directory

Home    The Human-Animal Bond     The History of Veterinary Medicine    About our No Kill Shelter     The FoxNest Veterinary Hospital     

"What To Expect When You Go To The Vet"
if your pet should have a problem with ...

Abscesses, wounds, and injuries

Arthritis, Lameness, Fractures, and Ligament Injuries
To include Femoral Head Removal, Hip Dysplasia, Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries, Panosteitis, Radiographic Demonstrations, Disc Disease, and Bone Surgery

Bladder, Urinary Tract, & Kidney Problems

Blood Diseases, Anemias etc
Strokes, Vascular Diseases, Anemias, DVT, DIC, Blood Parasites, Rat Poison, & Bleeding disorders

Cancer, Masses, Lumps and Bumps

Cardiology  Heart disease in Cats, Cardiac Hypertrophy, Valvular disease, Cardiac Insufficiency, Congestive Heart Failure, Heartworm Disease, and a little history about the milestones in treating heart disease

Cats: general information page and directory of diseases and problems specific to cats including vaccine recommendations, leukemia, feline viral infections, feline upper respiratory disease and cats that just aren't feeling well.

Dentistry and problems of the mouth and throat

Dermatology: Skin problems including allergies, rashes, bacterial infections, and itching. Hair Loss, Yeast Infections, Hormonal Problems


Ear Infections and Other Ear Problems

Eye Problems  and Ophthalmic Diseases

Exotics:  Pocket Pets, Rabbits, Hamsters etc

Fleas, Ticks, and other parasite problems

Heart disease; Cardiac diseases, vascular diseases, stroke, & heartworms

Hormone Diseases: Diabetes, Thyroid Disease, Cushing's Disease or Hypercortisolism, Addison's disease or Hypocortisolism, Pancreatitis, obesity as a disease

Infectious Diseases  Colds, Distemper, Parvo, Leptospirosis, Bruceellosis, Panleukopenia, Feline AIDS, Leukemia, Hepatitis, Kennel Cough, Ringworm, Rabies, FIP, Canine Herpes, Toxic Shock Syndrome, & More

Intestinal problems: diarrhea, constipation, torsion, indigestion, and gas. Also pancreatitis, vomiting, esophagitis, colitis, parvo and other types of dysentery

Kidney Disease

Liver Diseases     

Metabolic Diseases: Diabetes, Thyroid Disease, Cushing's Disease or Hypercortisolism, Addison's disease or Hypocortisolism, Pancreatitis, obesity as a disease

Neural Problems and Diseases: Epilepsy, Rabies, Distemper, FIP, Paralysis, Tetanus, Seizures, Disc Disease, Toxoplasmosis & others

Obesity; new information and about Pfizer's new FDA approved treatment


Parasite Problems Fleas, Ticks, Heartworms, Intestinal Worms, Mosquitos, Lice, Mites, and other welfare recipients

Poisons  Snakes, Insects, household chemicals, plants, and foods that might poison your pet

Respiratory Diseases

Senior Pet Page: Geriatric Medicine

Skeletal-Muscular Problems Arthritis, Fractures, ACL, Ligament Injuries, Disc Disease, Pannus, and many other problems of the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments

Skin Problems: allergies, rashes, bacterial infections, and itching. Hair Loss, Yeast Infections, Hormonal Problems

Surgery: Spays, Castrations, Testicle Recipes, Soft Tissue Surgery, Hard Tissue Surgery (Bones), C- Sections, Declawing, Tumor Removal and Cancer Surgery

Wounds, punctures, injuries, and abscesses

Urinary Tract Diseases and Problems

Other Topics on This Site

The Human-Animal Bond

History of Veterinary Medicine; lots of interesting stuff    

Zoonotics: Diseases, worms, and parasites people get from pets.

Lab Tests and what they tell us

Medications/Pharmacy Page

Nutrition & Diets
Includes information about Prescription diets used to treat disease, and a discussion about the pet food industry

Reproduction, breeding, & rearing information
Includes information about feline and canine heat or estrus, breeding, C-Sections, pyometra or Infected Uterus, dystocia, no milk, mastitis, & brucellosis
Also newborn care, undescended testicles, and alternative to spaying and castration

Vaccine and other preventive health recommendations

WildLife Page:  Taking care of baby bunnies, squirrels, and birds.  A very funny story about beavers, and other misc information

Our Dog Page:  a directory of problems of concern in dogs including parvovirus, distemper, canine herpes, and other diseases

Veterinary Pet Insurance

Tetanus is a big problem in horses and livestock but most cats and dogs aren't very sensitive to Clostridium organisms
The pony on your left is suffering from colic, but even a first year vet student would recognize the "saw horse" stance that is common in animals with tetanus.
Notice, once again the "saw horse" posture and extreme rigidity of the muscles.