Storm Debris in Pastures? Vaccinate for Tetanus

Since debris from this spring's violent storms remains in many pastures nationwide, now is a good time to ensure your horse has had a recent tetanus shot, according the Dona Goede, livestock specialist for the University of Missouri Extension.

"The debris in pastures--blown in,or washed in from the flooding--increases the chance of horses getting injured," said Goede. "The tetanus spore is naturally in the soil. All it takes is an open wound on a horse to introduce tetanus into its bloodstream."

Tetanus is a very serious disease that kills up to 80% of horses it infects.

Tetanus is caused by a naturally occurring bacterium 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 might be so small in some cases that the source injury can no longer be found once a veterinarian exams the horse. It can also infect the horse through injuries to a mucous membrane.

Goede explained, "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."

The multiplying spores produce the toxin that causes tetanus infections. Clinical signs 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 advanced cases of tetanus can include feeding through a stomach tube, giving fluids intravenously, plus sedating the horse and giving him muscle relaxers.

"There is little that can be done in extremely advanced cases except euthanize the horse," said Goede. "It is always better to prevent rather than treat when it comes to tetanus."

Thus, vaccination is key. "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.

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