More Research Needed to Ensure Horses Stay Safe From Tetanus

More Research Needed to Ensure Horses Stay Safe From Tetanus

Vaccination appears to be highly effective and safe.

Photo: iStock

Tetanus is a devastating disease, in most cases resulting in the death of an affected animal. Equine Veterinarians Australia (EVA) member Steve Dennis, BVSc(Hons), MRCVSc, is spearheading a new research project to identify the role tetanus antitoxin has in the prevention of this fatal disease in horses in that country.

Dennis has been working with colleagues at Melbourne University and the University of Sydney to determine correct dosage and the effectiveness of tetanus antitoxin, and tetanus toxoid (vaccine).

“We’ve surveyed EVA members to help us understand what vets know about tetanus antitoxin and the tetanus vaccine and how it works in horses,” he said. “Animals are susceptible to contracting tetanus through open wounds, so for me, it has been routine to offer tetanus antitoxin at the time of any surgical procedures to protect unvaccinated horses from contracting this deadly disease.”

Through his discussions with other equine veterinarians, Dennis has discovered that not everyone follows this practice.

“Some vets give tetanus antitoxin as a preventative, some don’t; some provide booster vaccinations every 5 years, some yearly,” he relayed. “Our current working knowledge in this area is based on 70-year-old research, and mostly on lab animals. I’m hoping this survey will open up doors for further research to be conducted to help establish best practice in protecting Australian horses from tetanus.”

Only 12-15% of the Australian horse population is currently vaccinated against tetanus. Dennis hopes his research will shed light on whether this is a result of the higher cost to vaccinate in Australia, compared to in the United States or United Kingdom.

“Despite low vaccination rates, there are only a small number of horses that have presented with tetanus but unfortunately survival rates are extremely poor,” Dennis said. “If a horse is diagnosed with tetanus, it only has a 30% chance of survival.

“We have the means to protect our horses from this fatal disease and we should,” he relayed. “Vaccination appears to be highly effective and safe. The question is whether tetanus antitoxin is a useful part of our preventive approach and hopefully we’ll start getting the answers we need as a result of this research.”

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