The Danger of Tetanus (Lockjaw) in Horses

2018-08-20 18:27
Horse Welfare , Lockjaw , Tetanus

Tetanus, also known as “lockjaw” is a very painful, distressing and usually deadly disease where eventually, due to toxins in the body, the mouth of the horse clamps shut, preventing the animal from eating or drinking. It causes death in the majority of cases.

** Warning - Distressing Photo Below of a Horse Suffering From Tetanus **

The Danger of Tetanus (Lockjaw) in Horses

Photo: Star (RIP), a cob who contacted deadly tetanus infection, due to horrific wounds on head caused by a makeshift head collar.


Tetanus is caused by toxins released by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, found in dust, manure and soil. Once the spores from the bacteria gain entry into a wound, they make their way to the brain. The length of time this takes to happen depends on the distance the spores need to travel. In some cases, it can be one week, in more serious infections, this time can be reduced.

Early signs of tetanus include*:

  • Abnormal sensitivity to sound or touch
  • A stiff gait
  • Prolapse of the third eyelid, which may cover half the eye
  • Very rigid ears that stick up
  • The top of the tail sticks out
  • A worried expression, with retraction of the eyelids and flared nostrils due to muscle spasm
  • Inability to open the mouth due to spasm of the masseter (powerful chewing) muscles, hence the name lockjaw
  • Regurgitation of food and water from the nostrils and drooling of saliva from the mouth as swallowing becomes more difficult
  • Partially chewed hay may be held in the mouth
  • Colic

What to Do - Contact Your Vet Urgently

Please call your vet immediately if you suspect tetanus, or if your horse has been wounded and may have been exposed to the bacteria, risking infection.  We have contact numbers for equine vets on our website.

Stray, Abandoned or Neglected Horses Suffering

If you suspect a horse you have found straying, abandoned or you suspect is suffering with tetanus or any other illness or wounds, please contact authorities who can investigate - contact details can be found here.

How to Prevent Tetanus

Horses can be vaccinated against Tetanus. Speak to your vet about the course of vaccinations and booster shots. It is recommended to keep a record of vaccinations.

*Source: Horse and Hound Website -

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