Tetanus

In memory of Chance 1/2/04 - 1/7/08

Chance...

...something that happens unpredictably without discernable human intention or observable cause (as defined by Merriam-Webster).

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Chance bounded into our lives through ATRA on October 24, 2006.  He was a tall, beautiful boy who asked for nothing more that a soft place on the sofa and a few goodies accidentally left on the kitchen counter (they disappeared quickly).   Chance was a vigorous, playful, but gentle, Airedale who was good with small children (their little faces were right at licking level) and the two cats that lived here (they, of course, got some good sniffs).  Chance played endlessly with the foster dog living here and yet gave only slight misery to our resident senior dale.  Chance would loudly announce the arrival of all visitors, but once he knew they were “allowed” in he wanted to be their best friend.  

Chance died on January 7, 2008, from tetanus.  I had never heard of tetanus in dogs.  I missed the very subtle early signs of this infection and I am writing this with the hope of saving another dog of the same terrible death.

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that enters a wound, causing an infection which releases a toxin that attacks the central nervous system.  It eventually causes muscle spasms and rigidity that can lead to respiratory paralysis and death.  In Chance’s case, we found only a small wound on his back likely caused by the rough play he and our foster dog loved so much.   How many times have we all found scratches, scrapes or punctures from typical Airedale rough play with no adverse effects?  How many of these have even happened and healed undetected?   I now know that even these minor injuries must be treated early and thoroughly and not just allowed to heal.  Nine times out of ten there is no problem…it only takes that one time for the infection to enter.

The first symptom I noticed in Chance was a “wide-eyed” expression.  And, he seemed to be holding his ears back.  I thought maybe he had an ear infection.  That was at the end of the day, so the next day I called and made an appointment with our vet for Saturday morning.  By the time of the appointment he was becoming lethargic, had a couple of incidents and vomiting and seemed to have some stiffness in his back legs.   My vet examined him and said he thought it was tetanus.  In all his years of practice he had only seen one other dog with tetanus!  He was very grim about the outcome and advised me of our options and/or lack of options.  He suggested that euthanasia might ultimately become necessary.    He set about an entry point; he found the almost healed wound on his back, opened it, thoroughly cleaned it and injected antibiotics directly into the site.  He administered the maximum amount of antibiotics by injection and muscle relaxants to make Chance more comfortable.   I was given a lesson in how to administer both of these medications throughout the weekend and planned to return early Monday morning for re-evaluation.  I stayed near Chance day and night through the weekend.  His condition continued to deteriorate and by early Monday morning he began to have difficulty breathing.  I knew then it was time.  I carried him to the car and drove to the animal emergency clinic.  By the time we arrived there he was starting to have seizures. 

I had to say goodbye to Chance on that horrible morning.   It was too late to save my beautiful boy but perhaps his gift to us all will be helping to prevent this from happening to another animal.   I didn’t know…but now you do.  Do the research…know what the subtle signs and symptoms are!  Don’t wait until “the first available appointment” to seek medical care for any questionable symptoms.  Don’t ever ignore even the most minor injury.

Sandy Check
ATRA Indiana Co-coordinator
Indianapolis