Vet News: A curious case of stiffness

Rachelle Jarvis

Rachelle Jarvis

Jackie is a one-year old spayed lab mix that recently came into the clinic for a peculiar stiffness.

She had just been spayed at a mobile practice and had been laying in the yard sun bathing. I see a happy lab looking up at me, but something is unusual. Her ears are erect, her facial muscles are contracted, and her stance is wide with her legs straight. Then, it becomes clear to me, that Jackie is having a neurologic issue. This means we need to figure out where the body is being affected and causing the clinical signs we are seeing.

I start my exam. I need to find where she is injured. Her head, front legs, back legs, and tail all appear to be affected. I walk her up and down the hallway and watch her gait, which is very stiff, and her tail is elevated. Her mental activity is good, she is aware of what is going on around her, and she’s actually quite happy. But, she just doesn’t have control of her muscles and they are all in a state of contraction. I complete my physical exam, and I find the problem. I am sure I know what is going on; Jackie has tetanus.

Clostridium tetani is a bacterium that produces spores that persist for long periods of time in the environment. They enter a wound (her spay incision), and symptoms appear 5 to 20 days later. Clinical signs of the infection range from a stiff gait, erect ears, an elevated tail, contraction of facial muscles and seizures. Death can even ensue if not treated. The toxin spreads to the spinal cord, causing the extensor muscles to stay in a state of contraction. Cats are more resistant to the infection than dogs are.

Jackie was placed on two antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection and made a full recovery, thankfully. She is a lively, happy, playful pup to this day.

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