Tetanus in Horses: Symptoms, Treatment & Vaccination

clostridium tetani

Tetanus is a serious and potentially fatal disease that affects horses of all ages. It is caused by the Clostridium tetani bacteria which enter the body through wounds or other openings in the skin. This bacterium produces a toxin (tetanospasmin) that causes severe muscle spasms, rigidity, and difficulty swallowing and breathing. Although it is rare for horses to contract tetanus, it can be fatal if left untreated.


The most common symptoms of tetanus in horses include:

  • Muscle stiffness and spasticity (stiff gait)
  • Prolapsed third eyelid
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Excessive salivation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Urine retention or incontinence
  • Elevated temperature and heart rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating

If you suspect your horse may have tetanus, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately.


Tetanus can be treated with a combination of antibiotics, anti-toxins, and supportive care. Antibiotics help to stop the toxin-producing bacteria from multiplying and releasing more toxins into the body. Anti-toxin injections are used to neutralize any existing toxins in the body. Supportive care includes drugs to control muscle spasms, sedatives to help relax the muscles, fluids to support organ functioning, and wound care. Depending on the severity of the infection, hospitalization may be necessary.


Since there is no specific cure for tetanus, prevention is key. Horses should be vaccinated against tetanus. Vaccines boost immunity and protect horses from infection. In addition, all wounds should be cleaned and treated immediately to avoid the introduction of any tetanus-causing bacteria into the body. Any horse that is at risk of exposure to tetanus should also be monitored closely and given additional attention as needed. 

With proper prevention, the chances of a horse developing tetanus can be greatly reduced. Vaccination, wound care, and monitoring are all important steps in protecting horses from this serious infection. With appropriate treatment and care, horses can recover from tetanus and go on to live healthy lives.


Horse owners should make sure to keep their animals up-to-date with tetanus vaccinations. Vaccination generally consists of a series of two shots given 1 month apart and then a booster in 12 months and then re-administered every 5 years. Horses that are at higher risk for developing tetanus, such as those working in wet, dirty environments or those with wounds, should be vaccinated more frequently. It is important to note that tetanus vaccination does not provide immediate protection and can take up to two weeks for immunity levels to build up.


How long does tetanus last in a horse?

Tetanus in horses can last for 2-6 weeks, depending on the severity of the infection.

Is tetanus contagious in horses?

Tetanus is not contagious in horses; rather, it is caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani entering through open wounds.

What is the best antibiotic for tetanus?

The best antibiotic for tetanus is generally penicillin G, metronidazole and doxycycline. However, a vet should be consulted to determine the most suitable course of treatment depending on the individual circumstances and severity of the infection.

What is another name for tetanus in horses?

Another name for tetanus in horses is “lockjaw.” It is so-called because it causes the horse’s jaw to contract, making it difficult to open its mouth.

What percent of tetanus is fatal?

The fatality rate for tetanus in horses is estimated to be more than 50%. However, prompt diagnosis and treatment can reduce this risk significantly.



A twenty-year retrospective study of tetanus in horses: 42 cases

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