Tetanus and Strangles are very serious, but preventable diseases in horses. Information on the Hendra Virus and vaccine can be found here.
Tetanus is caused by a bacteria that occurs commonly in the soil and can infect a horse through scratches or wounds. Signs of tetanus infection can include:
- Stiff gait
- Spasm of muscles around the mouth (“lock jaw”)
- Spasm of facial muscles (retracted lips, flared nostrils, erect ears)
- Rigid extension of the neck, limbs and tail
- Complete muscle spasm resulting in death
Signs will occur 7-21 days after infection. Death commonly occurs within 5-7 days after the first signs. Less than 50% of animals given treatment survive and treatment is long, painful and time-consuming.
Any species of animal can contract tetanus, horses are the most susceptible to the disease.
Strangles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by airborne bacteria. Signs include:
- Reduced appetite
- Snotty nasal discharge
- Abscess formation in the lymph nodes under the jaw. The abscess formation under the jaw can be so severe that the wind pipe is compressed, killing the horse by strangulation.
Approximately 25% of horses which have had strangles will continue to be contagious for months to years after their infection, without showing signs themselves. Such a horse may live quite a distance from your own, but still be able to pass on the infection via the air.
Vaccination against tetanus and strangles can be done in any healthy horse over 12 weeks of age. Tetanus requires two vaccinations initially, 1 month apart, then a booster in 12 months, then a booster every 5 years. Strangles requires 3 vaccinations initially, 1 month apart, then a booster every 12 months. All pregnant mares should be vaccinated 2-4 weeks before foaling to help pass on some immunity to the foal.
If your horse is wounded and unvaccinated a ‘short acting’ tetanus antitoxin protecting vaccination is recommended to prevent tetanus devloping. This antitoxin is expensive and if not given early enough may not prevent the progression of the disease to death.
These vaccinations are available from the clinic and do not require a consultation. If you are comfortable giving injections you can give the vaccines yourself.