Tetanus is a potentially life-threatening condition that can affect our beloved canine companions. While relatively rare, dog owners need to be aware of the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for tetanus in dogs.

In this informative article, we'll break down the key aspects of tetanus, including its causes, diagnosis, and what you can do to ensure your dog's well-being. We've consulted with the research of leading veterinarians, Dr. Anne Fawcett and Dr. Peter Irwin, to provide you with expert insights into this condition. So, let's dive into the world of tetanus in dogs and learn how to keep our dogs safe and healthy.


  1. What Is Tetanus in Dogs
  2. Symptoms of Tetanus in Dogs
  3. Causes of Tetanus in Dogs
  4. Do Dogs Need a Tetanus Shot
  5. Treatment of Tetanus in Dogs
  6. Emergency Fund for Your Pet
  7. FAQs
  8. Conclusion

What Is Tetanus in Dogs

Tetanus, a rare but serious neurological disorder, can affect dogs just as it can in humans. It is caused by a potent neurotoxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. This neurotoxin leads to spastic paralysis and can result in severe clinical signs.

How Do Dogs Contract Tetanus

The causative organism, Clostridium tetani, is commonly found in the environment, including soil, dust, and animal feces. Dogs can contract tetanus when these spores enter their bodies through wounds or injuries. The most common route of infection in dogs is through penetrating wounds contaminated with soil or feces, such as injuries to paws or limbs.

Tetanus can also be associated with tooth eruptions, tooth root abscesses, surgical contamination during procedures like intestinal resection, and poorly managed wounds. In some cases, the presence of suppuration, tissue necrosis, and foreign bodies can create anaerobic conditions that favor the production of tetanus toxin.

In summary, dogs contract tetanus when Clostridium tetani spores enter their bodies through wounds, injuries, or other conditions that create anaerobic environments. Dog owners need to be vigilant about wound care and seek prompt veterinary attention if they suspect their dog may be at risk for tetanus.
Tetanus in dogs can show various symptoms, some of which might sound a bit complicated, but we'll break them down so that it's easy to understand:

Symptoms of Tetanus in Dogs

Okay, so do veterinarian sources highlight the signs that a dog may have tetanus?

  • Risus Sardonicus: This is when a dog's face looks like it's smiling strangely, but it's not a happy smile.
  • Trismus: Imagine your dog having a really hard time opening their mouth like they're clenching their teeth tightly.
  • Ocular Abnormalities: Your dog's eyes might look different, with their third eyelid sticking out and their eyeballs moving inwards.
  • Erect Ear Carriage: Their ears might stand up very straight, which is not usual for them.
  • Altered Facial Expression: Their faces might look different like they're making unusual expressions.
  • Generalized Muscle Rigidity with Spastic Tetraplegia: This means the muscles all over their body become very stiff, and they might have trouble moving their legs.
  • Torticollis: Imagine your dog's head and neck twisting or tilting to one side.
  • Urethral and Anal Sphincter Hypertonicity: This means their pee and poop muscles become very tight and might not work properly.
  • Dyspnea: It's like they have trouble breathing, and it can make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Dysphagia: They might have difficulty swallowing, like when you have a sore throat and it hurts to swallow.
  • Ptyalism: This is when they drool a lot, and you might see more saliva than usual.
  • Regurgitation: It's like they're bringing up their food, kind of like when you burp after eating.
  • Vomiting: This is when they throw up their food or something they ate.
  • Anorexia: Your dog might not want to eat at all, even if they usually love their food.
  • Hyperaesthesia: They become super sensitive to touch, like when you have a bruise and it hurts if someone touches it.
  • Hypersensitivity to Auditory Stimuli: It means they might get scared or agitated by loud noises more than usual.

If you notice your dog showing any of these symptoms, it's crucial to get them checked by a veterinarian right away. Early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference in their recovery. And remember, keeping an eye on your dog through a pet cam can help you notice any unusual behavior or symptoms early on.

Causes of Tetanus in Dogs

Tetanus is a rare but serious condition in dogs, and it's essential to understand how they can get it. Here's what you need to know:

Clostridium Tetani Bacteria

The primary cause of tetanus in dogs is a bacterium called Clostridium tetani. This bacterium is found in the environment, especially in soil and animal feces. Dogs can come into contact with these bacteria when they explore the outdoors.

Wounds and Injuries

Dogs can get tetanus through wounds and injuries, especially puncture wounds. If your dog steps on a rusty nail, encounters barbed wire or has any other injury that breaks their skin, it creates an opportunity for the bacteria to enter their body.

Anaerobic Environment

Clostridium tetani thrive in anaerobic (oxygen-free) environments. When a wound or injury occurs and it creates a space where oxygen doesn't reach well, it becomes a suitable environment for these bacteria to multiply and produce toxins.

Rust and Soil

While tetanus is often associated with rust, it's not the rust itself that causes the disease. Rusty objects, like nails or metal surfaces, can be contaminated with bacteria if they've been in contact with soil or feces. So, dogs can indirectly get tetanus from rusty objects if the bacteria are present.

Licking Rust

Dogs are known for licking and exploring objects with their mouths. If they lick rusty surfaces or objects, they might ingest the bacteria, although this is less common. So if you see your dog licking something rusty, don’t worry, they’ll probably be fine.

Puncture Wounds

Tetanus can also result from puncture wounds caused by objects like thorns, splinters, or even animal bites.

Inadequate Wound Care

Proper wound care is crucial to preventing tetanus. If wounds are not cleaned, disinfected, and treated promptly, it increases the risk of infection.

It's essential to be cautious when your dog has any wounds or injuries, especially if they have been in contact with soil or rusty objects. If you notice any of the symptoms of tetanus or suspect that your dog may have been exposed to the bacteria, consult your veterinarian immediately.

And, as a helpful tip, using a pet cam to keep an eye on your dog's outdoor adventures can be a great way to monitor their activities and ensure their safety, especially if they tend to explore areas where they might encounter potential sources of tetanus. Here's a link to the pet cam we recommend.

Do Dogs Need a Tetanus Shot

Tetanus is a severe and potentially deadly disease, but it's relatively rare in dogs. Unlike humans, dogs do not typically receive routine tetanus vaccinations as part of their regular vaccination schedule. However, there are some essential points to consider:

Risk Assessment

The need for a tetanus shot in dogs depends on their risk factors. If your dog has a deep wound, a puncture wound, or an injury caused by rusty objects, it's essential to assess the risk of tetanus. Tetanus is more likely to occur in such cases.

Vaccination History

Dogs that have been appropriately vaccinated against tetanus are at lower risk. However, tetanus vaccination is not a routine part of dog vaccines, so you should consult your veterinarian regarding your dog's vaccination history.

Treatment for Wounds

Proper wound care is crucial. If your dog gets injured, especially through puncture wounds or wounds from rusty objects, it's essential to clean, disinfect, and treat the wound promptly. This can help prevent tetanus.

Consult Your Veterinarian

If you're unsure about whether your dog needs a tetanus shot after an injury, it's best to consult your veterinarian. They can assess the situation, including the wound type, severity, and your dog's vaccination history, and guide whether a tetanus shot is necessary.

Emergency Situations

In cases where your dog is bitten by another animal, particularly wild animals, and there's a concern about tetanus, your veterinarian may recommend a tetanus shot along with other necessary treatments.

Remember that tetanus in dogs is rare, but the risk increases with certain types of wounds. Consulting your veterinarian and following their recommendations is the best approach to ensuring your dog's health and safety.

If you have any concerns about your dog's vaccination status or their risk of tetanus, it's a good idea to discuss these with your veterinarian. They can provide personalized guidance based on your dog's specific situation.

Treatment of Tetanus in Dogs

If your dog is diagnosed with tetanus, it's crucial to seek immediate veterinary care. Tetanus is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition, but with prompt treatment, there's hope for recovery.

Here are key aspects of treating tetanus in dogs:

  • Hospitalization: Dogs with tetanus often require hospitalization for intensive care. This involves providing a controlled environment, as dogs with tetanus can experience muscle spasms and seizures. Hospitalization also allows for close monitoring of vital signs.
  • Wound Care: If the tetanus was caused by an open wound, such as a puncture wound, wound care is a crucial part of treatment. The wound must be thoroughly cleaned, debrided if necessary, and kept clean to prevent further bacterial contamination.
  • Antitoxin Administration: Tetanus antitoxin is used to neutralize the tetanus toxin in the dog's body. This is an essential part of treatment and helps stop the progression of the disease.
  • Antimicrobial Therapy: Antibiotics are prescribed to treat or prevent bacterial infections that can complicate the condition. It's important to administer antibiotics as prescribed by the veterinarian.
  • Muscle Relaxants: To control muscle spasms and tetanic contractions, muscle relaxants or sedatives may be administered. Diazepam is often used because it helps relax muscles and prevent convulsions.
  • Supportive Care: Dogs with tetanus require supportive care to maintain hydration and nutrition. This may involve intravenous fluids and, in some cases, feeding tubes to ensure they receive adequate nourishment.
  • Pain Management: Tetanus can be painful, and pain management is an important aspect of treatment. Medications to relieve pain and discomfort may be prescribed.
  • Monitoring: Close monitoring of the dog's condition is essential during treatment. This includes tracking vital signs, observing for any complications, and adjusting treatment as needed.
  • Hospitalization Duration: The duration of hospitalization can vary, but dogs with tetanus often require an extended stay due to the slow recovery process. Some dogs may need weeks of care.
  • Consultation with Specialists: In severe cases, consultation with specialists such as neurologists may be necessary to manage neurological symptoms effectively.

It's important to note that the cost of treating tetanus in dogs can be significant, and some dogs may be euthanized due to the estimated costs of hospitalization. This is where having an emergency fund for your pet can make a difference.

Emergency Fund for Your Pet

Having an Emergency Fund specifically set aside for your pet's unexpected medical expenses can be a lifesaver in situations like tetanus treatment. It ensures that you can provide your dog with the necessary care without financial constraints by covering up to $3000 in emergency vet bills. It also gives you access to 24/7 online vets to help you out if you’re worried.

To support our readers, we're offering a special discount of 27% on setting up an emergency fund for your pet at this link.

Remember that early intervention and proper treatment give your dog the best chance of recovery from tetanus. If you suspect your dog may have tetanus or if they have a wound that raises concerns, contact your veterinarian immediately. Swift action can save lives.


Can dogs carry tetanus?

No, dogs do not carry tetanus. Tetanus is caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, and it's not typically found in the normal flora of a dog's gastrointestinal tract. Dogs contract tetanus through wounds contaminated with bacteria or spores.

What is the survival rate for dogs with tetanus?

The survival rate for dogs with tetanus can vary depending on several factors, including the promptness of treatment and the severity of the condition. With early and appropriate veterinary care, some dogs can recover from tetanus. However, the prognosis is guarded, and severe cases may have a lower survival rate.

How can I prevent tetanus in my dog?

Tetanus prevention involves keeping your dog's environment safe. Ensure that your dog's vaccinations are up-to-date, as this can help prevent tetanus. Additionally, promptly clean and treat any wounds your dog may have to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination. Regular veterinary care and wound care are essential preventive measures.


Tetanus in dogs is a rare but serious condition that requires immediate veterinary attention. While dogs do not carry tetanus, they can contract it through contaminated wounds. With timely treatment, supportive care, and wound management, some dogs can recover. Prevention through vaccination and wound care is crucial to keeping your canine companion safe.

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