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Tetanus in Goats: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment for Ruminants

Tetanus in Goats

Is your goat suffering from stiff limbs, unsteady gait, clamped jaws, erect ears and tails, and convulsions?

These are the common symptoms of tetanus in goats, and it’s highly fatal.

But don’t panic! In this article, we’ll share everything you should know about tetanus in goats, including:

  • Causes
  • Symptoms
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatments for tetanus in ruminants

If your goat hasn’t experienced it yet, that’s great! Early prevention is the key to your goat’s survival, so we prepared several prevention tips to protect your goat.

Time is crucial in treating tetanus, so without further ado, let’s dig into it to discover the main culprit of this deadly disease.

What Causes Tetanus in Goats?

Tetanus, also called a “lockjaw,” is an infection caused by a Clostridium tetani bacterium. These types of bacteria usually live in soil, feces, and dust.

Tetanus, along with overeating disease, are among the most common cause of death in goats.

Why are goats prone to tetanus? It is because they are foragers and might sustain injury when foraging.

Any wound can lead to tetanus infections, including:

  • Wounds contaminated with dirt, feces or poop, or saliva
  • Puncture wounds caused by objects such as nails or needles breaking the skin
  • Burns
  • Crush injuries or injury to a body part brought by pressure from another object like bricks or hollow blocks or due to being squeezed between two heavy objects
  • Injuries with dead tissue
  • Dog bites
  • Surgical operation wounds
  • Compound fractures
  • And chronic sores and infections

Goats can also contract tetanus through:

  • Cuts from castration
  • Dehorning or disbudding of goats
  • Tattooing
  • Kidding difficulties
  • Fights between bucks

The bacteria can quickly enter the goat’s wound and multiply when they’re open and penetrate. And eventually, it excretes potent toxins that can cause pain.

In most cases, they find their way to the tissues through wounds, particularly deep puncture wounds. However, tetanus in lambs could happen after docking or castration.

And sometimes, the point of entry is not noticeable because the wound is minor or already healed.

If the tissue maintains the normal oxidation-reduction potential of the flowing blood, C tetani spores cannot grow in healthy tissue or even in wounds.

But the conditions favor multiplication when a small bit of soil or a foreign item causes tissue necrosis.

What Happens Next?

At the original site of infection, the bacteria continue to grow and are localized in the necrotic tissue. Then, the powerful neurotoxin is released during the autolysis of bacterial cells.

Then, Synaptobrevin, a membrane protein associated with vesicles, is broken down by the neurotoxic, zinc-binding protease.

The toxin often enters the body by the local motor nerves and proceeds retrogradely up the nerve pathway to the spinal cord, where it causes ascending tetanus.

By preventing the release of inhibitory neurotransmitters from the presynaptic nerve ends, the toxin causes spasmodic, tonic contractions of the voluntary muscles.

Suppose the infection site releases more toxins than the nearby neurons can handle.

In that case, the extra is taken away by the lymph to the bloodstream and ultimately to the central nervous system, where it causes descending tetanus.

The typical tetanic muscle spasms can be brought upon by even slight stimulation of the sick animal. The spasms could be so bad and cause bone fractures.

Then, the spasms that affect the animal’s larynx, diaphragm, and intercostal muscles can cause respiratory failure.

Furthermore, the autonomic nervous system involvement leads to cardiac arrhythmias, tachycardia, and hypertension.

Tetanus in Goats Symptoms

What Are the Symptoms of Tetanus in Goats?

The clinical signs of tetanus in goats include:

  • Stiff limbs, muscles, and tail
  • Lockjaw or the jaws is clamped together
  • Drooling saliva from the mouth
  • Pricked ears
  • Unsteady gait
  • Changed voice
  • Erect ears and tails
  • Inability to eat or drink
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Prolapsed third eyelid across the eye
  • Convulsion
  • If not treated can lead to paralysis and death within just two days

These symptoms usually appear a week to 3rd week after the infection occurs.

Tetanus’ incubation period varies from one to several weeks but averages 10 to 14 days.

You may notice localized stiffness, including masseter and neck muscles, hind limbs, and part of the infected wound. Then, the stiffness will be more apparent a day later.

Your goat may experience more violent, general spasms or convulsions as the reflexes intensify. Then, the head muscle spasms cause difficulty chewing food, hence the name lockjaw.

Diagnosis of Tetanus in Goats

Tetanus can be diagnosed through a clinical evaluation and confirming the toxin presence.

But the clinical signs and history are often enough for vets to make a clinical diagnosis of tetanus. The diagnosis can then be confirmed by detecting the tetanus toxin from the sick goat.

If the wound is visible, the vet may conduct a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test on the wound to verify the bacterium’s presence.

Tetanus in Goats Treatment

How to Treat Tetanus in Goats?

Now you may be wondering how to cure tetanus in goats. Well, tetanus is not a typical infection you can treat at home.

Only a licensed veterinarian can do it needs a clinical evaluation and toxin confirmation.

That’s why if you notice the symptoms of tetanus in goats, bring them immediately to your trusted and nearest vet.

There are tetanus antitoxins, but they will be ineffective once the toxin reaches the spinal cord. So, vaccinating them promptly is crucial for their survival.

However, early intervention is the best way to prevent it.

The first thing you can do is locate the wound and clean it with clean water and antiseptic. Give them supplements that boost their immunity and muscle relaxants.

Then bring them to your vet to administer high doses of penicillin, tetanus anti-toxic, or anti-inflammatories.

There are some successful treatments for tetanus in goats. But unfortunately, goats with low immunity and those who lack protection from vaccines may not survive this fatal infection.

How Much Tetanus Shot Do You Give a Goat?

A goat needs 150 to 250 units of tetanus antitoxin. It is equal to 0.6 to 1 milliliter and should be shot alternately.

When Do You Give a Goat a Tetanus Shot?

For full protection and prevention of tetanus infection, the antitoxin shot can be shot at birth or during castration.

A buck that reaches maturity within eight months and until older should be shot annually 30 days before the breeding season starts.

Those bucks and does with no or unknown vaccination history should have two initial doses.

Mostly, the interval is three to six weeks, then later will be annual. Some might choose to do it twice a year.

Where Do You Give a Goat a Tetanus Shot?

Applying the tetanus antitoxin to your goats is easy. You need to shoot it to their skin subcutaneously or intramuscularly.

However, it’s safer if your veterinarian does this to avoid spilling or breaking the injection needle.

Prevention of Tetanus in Goats

How to Prevent Tetanus in Goats

One of the best ways to prevent tetanus infection is to keep your goat’s pen clean and safe.

Clostridium tetani bacterium is everywhere, and they can nestle on goat’s feces inside their pen.

But maintaining your goat’s facility can minimize the chances of your goat getting infected.

Early prevention of tetanus in goats also involves immediate and good wound care. So, don’t neglect your goat’s open wounds.

Whether it’s a cut from wires or fences or an injury from fallen bricks, you must provide first aid and treat the wound immediately.

Our next tip is to update your goats with annual vaccinations. But what vaccines do goats need?

The recommended vaccine for goats is CDT or “CD&T,” which stands for Clostridium perfringens type C + D and tetanus.

Every goat owner must have this vaccine in their kit. You can administer it yourself by following instructions and carefully labeling directions.

Many companies also produce CDT vaccines, and some of them include vaccines for additional clostridial diseases.

But it’s best to consult your veterinarian to know if those diseases are prevalent in your area or farm before spending extra money on different combination vaccines.

When and How Often Should You Vaccinate Your Goats?

You must ensure your goats get vaccinated around 30 days before giving birth so the kids can get protection through the first milk or colostrum.

This is called passive immunity, which newborns enjoy for a few weeks until they’re ready for their own vaccination.

But if the does haven’t received two shots of priming booster 3 to 4 weeks apart in her life, the pre-kidding annual shot won’t be effective. So ensure it gets the priming set of shots as a kid or at any age.

Kids must be vaccinated at 5 to 6 weeks of age and administered a booster shot 3 to 4 weeks later.

Suppose you recently purchased a kid and are unsure about its mother’s vaccination history or colostrum ingestion within 24 hours of birth.

In that case, that kid must be vaccinated at 7 to 21 days of age. Then give it a booster shot 3 to 4 weeks later.

You can also give 150–250 units of tetanus antitoxin at castration if it’s old enough to receive toxoid injections.

But if you already gave your goat both toxoid injections, give it a booster shot at castration.

Furthermore, you must vaccinate breeding bucks, yearlings, and other adults with annual boosters 30 days before the breeding season or when others receive their boosters.

As for new breeding bucks and does with unclear vaccination history, they should receive two doses, 3 to 6 weeks apart.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tetanus in Goats

We also compiled the answer to the common questions about tetanus in goats to give you more insights into dealing with this serious health issue.

What are the signs of tetanus in a goat?

The signs of tetanus infection in goats are stiff limbs, muscles, and tail, lockjaw, drooling saliva from the mouth, pricked ears, unsteady gait, prolapsed third eyelid across the eye, and convulsion.

If not treated, it can lead to paralysis and death within just two days.

Can a goat survive tetanus?

Mostly, if the infection occurs worst and is not immediately treated, it’s unusual for the goat to survive and will die within 12 to 72 hours.

But, if the high doses are shot promptly, survival is possible.

But it’s best to regularly vaccinate them from newborns until they become fully mature to avoid this health crisis.

What are the symptoms of tetanus in sheep and goats?

The symptoms of tetanus in sheep and goats are the same because they both belong to the mammal family called Bovidae.

Because they are genetically related, they can show signs such as muscle spasms and stiffness, bloat, uncoordinated walking, panic, and inability to drink and eat.

What antitoxin is used for tetanus in goats?

Many brands promote Tetanus Antitoxin for deep penetrating wounds in animals.

For example, the Colorado Serum Company is selling s recommended COSVC109 Tetanus Antitoxin. This antitoxin is for a single dose only with 1500 units.

How do you treat tetanus in sheep and goats?

Other than Tetanus Antitoxin, some medications can help manage and treat the infection and reduce inflammation in your goat’s wound.

It includes Penicillin and anti-inflammatories like Meloxicam.

Though it can’t completely kill the toxins, it can help kill the bacteria. So, it’s better to apply it with tetanus antitoxin for the whole treatment.

How many tetanus shots are given each year?

Goats need at least two doses, four weeks apart at a young age, then give them a booster shot annually.

If your ruminant usually feeds on grain, you need to give boosters more frequently but consult your vet before administering the shot.

Tetanus in Goats: Final Thoughts

As we said earlier, the tetanus-causing bacterium is everywhere.

But you can protect your goats by keeping their facilities clean, having prompt and good wound care, and up-to-date vaccinations against tetanus.

If you’d keep up with their vaccination requirements and provide annual booster shots, your goat will have stronger protection and a higher chance of survival.

But where can you get the vaccines for tetanus in goats?

You can purchase over-the-counter CDT vaccines, tetanus toxoids, and antitoxin injections from animal health supply houses.

Just remember to refrigerate all three types of vaccines and look out for their expiration dates.

Preventative measures like good pen-keeping and vaccines are more cost-effective than treatments and death.

So, if you want to keep your goats in good shape and prevent tetanus in goats, you must follow all the preventative measures above and watch out for wounds and injuries.

Have you ever experienced facing this life-threatening condition while raising goats? How did you deal with it, and how did you treat your goat?

Please share with us your experiences and tips in the comment section below.

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