Can my pet get Tetanus? If so, what happens?

When we think about tetanus, we think about stepping on a rusty nail and running to the nearest ER/Urgent Care to be seen for treatment and to receive a tetanus shot. But when it comes to both dogs and cats, it’s relatively uncommon in both species. Dogs are less responsive to the effects of tetanus toxins than humans.  So what happens when a pet contracts tetanus?

What is Tetanus?

SAGE Dublin’s ER/CCU Dr. Beth Lieblick explains, “Tetanus is caused by a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium tetani. The bacteria lives in soil and enters the body through deep puncture wounds. The bacteria produce the toxin in anerobic (oxygen-free) conditions, which is why a deep puncture wound is required for production. The bacteria ultimately causes clinical signs such as a wrinkled forehead, erect ears, retracted lips (risus sardonicus), prolapsed third eyelids, generalized muscle stiffness, wide based (saw horse) stance, generalized tremors, and dysphagia (swallowing difficulty).”

The Case

Recently SAGE Dublin ER/CCU department encountered a case that involved tetanus with a dog named Ritchey. Ritchey initially saw Drs. Pisanelli and Tilleman at Disney Pet Hospital who recognized the symptoms and urged Ritchey’s owners to take him to SAGE. Ritchey came in with an initial presentation (seen in the video below) and experienced all symptoms listed above, but with no wound found. He was treated with tetanus antitoxin, IV fluids, antibiotics, and a muscle relaxer. On the second day of hospitalization, Dr. Lieblick found the wound and SAGE Dublin Surgeon, Dr. Celia ValVerde went into action and saved Ritchey’s life by amputating his toe. SAGE Dublin ER/CCU Dr. Lynn Morris facilitated the placement of an esophageal feeding tube to ensure that Ritchey could get proper nutrition while healing since he was not able to fully open his mouth and eat on his own. We are happy to report today that Ritchey is doing great (see video below) as you can see he is hitting up the Redwood trails with his owner, who is also exceptionally happy to have his best four-legged friend back in action.

It turned out the culprit for Ritchey’s wound was a plant awn, doctors suspect a foxtail. This is not a bacteria that doctors commonly think of with foxtails, so his case is especially interesting.


Pets that are not treated for tetanus with these types of symptoms where the clinical signs progress, they can ultimately pass away from paralysis of their respiratory muscles or infectious complications such as pneumonia, upper airway obstruction, severe hyperthermia (high temperature) with disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC), multiple organ failure, pulmonary thromboembolism, and cardiac arrhythmias.

SAGE Veterinary Centers is proud to provide the best veterinary medicine available. Doctors, technicians, management, and staff collaborate across different specialties and departments to ensure that every pet and the people who love them receive the highest level of quality care.


Before: Ritchey presenting signs of Tetanus

After: Ritchey enjoying the Redwoods with his owner!

Contact this Location

Captcha Code

COVID-19 Information