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STOCKTON – With storm debris in pastures, now is a good time to make sure your horse has had a recent tetanus shot, according the Dona Goede, livestock specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
“The debris in pastures, blown in or washed in from the flooding, increases the chance of horses getting injured. The tetanus spore is naturally in the soil, all it takes is an open wound on a horse to introduce tetanus into its bloodstream,” said Goede.
Tetanus is a very serious disease that kills about 80 percent of horses it infects.
“A veterinarian treating a wound will give an injection that will prevent tetanus for several weeks, but a horse should have a vaccination and follow up booster shots that will last for a long period of time,” said Goede.
Tetanus is caused by naturally occurring bacteria called Clostridium tetani. The tetanus bacteria are ingested by horses and can be found in their gut and their manure. The spores themselves are not toxic to the animals.
The source of a tetanus infection is nearly always through a wound. The wound may in some cases be so small that the source injury can no longer be found once a vet is called. It can also infect the horse through injuries to a mucus membrane.
“The ideal growing conditions require an absence of oxygen (the spores are anaerobic), so penetrating foot injuries or puncture wounds carry greater risk of infection. These are injuries that a horse may have without an owner knowing about,” said Goede.
The multiplying spores produce a toxin which is what does the damage. The symptoms can take anywhere from three days to a month to show, usually starting with a stiffness around the head and neck, and a lack of control in the eyelid.
Treatment for extreme cases of tetanus can include feeding through a stomach tube, giving fluids intravenously, plus sedating the horse and giving muscle relaxers.
“There is little that can be done in extremely advanced cases except euthanize the horse. It is always better to prevent rather than treat when it comes to tetanus,” said Goede.
For more information, contact one of the MU Extension livestock specialists in southwest Missouri: Dona Goede in Cedar County, (417) 276-3313 or Eldon Cole in Mt. Vernon, (417) 466-3102.