Tetanus - the shocking facts behind the figures

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100% of horses are vulnerable, survival rates can be as low as 25% yet less than 60% of horses are vaccinated

Tetanus is caused by a bacterium (Clostridium tetani) that is common throughout the environment; its spores can persist for years in the soil. Although most animals can be affected, equids are particularly susceptible due to their environment and tendency to sustain injuries.

Horses with tetanus become seriously ill very quickly and, in many cases, the disease is fatal – survival rates are low, between 25-41%. Recovery is slow, painful and distressing to witness. Even if they survive, infected horses may require months of treatment and nursing.

The bacteria typically enter the body through wounds, with deep puncture wounds or foot abscesses offering ideal conditions. Other entry sites can include superficial wounds, the umbilical cord in foals and retained placental membranes in mares.

In ideal conditions – low levels of oxygen and dying flesh – the bacterial spores germinate and produce large quantities of toxins, which attack the nerves controlling muscles in the horse’s body, producing muscular stiffness and spasms.

Symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can start within days or up to three weeks after a wound has become infected. Typical symptoms include:
• increased sensitvity to external stimuli – light, sound and movement
• muscle stiffness and spasm
• a rocking horse stance with a raised tail head and stiff gait
• lockjaw – making eating and drinking difficult
• a startled facial expression with erect ears, flared nostrils and a protruding third eyelid
• eventually, recumbency and death through respiratory failure.

In spite of the omnipresent danger this disease poses to our horses’ health, the shocking fact is that less than 60% of the UK’s horses are protected by vaccination – yet all of them are vulnerable! That’s why the Keeping Britain’s Horses Healthy campaign (KBHH) is working with us, the vets, and you, the horse-owning public, to promote vaccination against tetanus. Because of the major health hazard that tetanus poses to horses, KBHH is aspiring to the target of 100% of all British horses being vaccinated against this killer disease.

Vaccination involves a primary course of two injections followed by regular booster vaccinations and foals can be vaccinated from as young as six months old. Speak to us here at the practice – we will be pleased to advise you on getting up to date with your tetanus vaccination schedule to make sure your horse stays healthy.

Let’s work together to try and hit that target of 100% of Britain’s horses being protected against tetanus!

Call us here at the practice on 0808 168 5580 to book an appointment