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Ask the Vet: Cats Resistant to Tetanus

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: When my cat was injured outdoors, his veterinarian boosted his rabies vaccination, in case a rabid animal had inflicted the wound, but did not administer a tetanus shot. When I cut myself in the yard, my doctor gave me a tetanus shot. Should I request the same for my cat?

A: That's not necessary, because cats rarely get tetanus.

Tetanus develops when bacteria called Clostridium tetani, which survive for years in soil and dust, invade an open wound.

These bacteria then produce a nerve toxin called tetanospasmin that travels through the nerves to the spinal cord and brain. Within five to 10 days, the toxin causes muscle stiffness, rigidity, spasms and tremors. If death occurs, it is usually due to respiratory failure.

Lockjaw, a common term for tetanus, describes rigidity of the jaw muscles, which precludes eating and sometimes even breathing.

Fortunately, cats -- and, to a lesser degree, dogs -- are remarkably resistant to tetanus, especially compared with humans and horses, because the tetanus toxin doesn't easily bind to feline and canine nerves.


In the rare event a cat does become infected, treatment would include antibiotics and tetanus antitoxin.

People are vaccinated as children and again every 10 years to prevent tetanus, which otherwise can be fatal.

Most physicians who treat people bitten by cats or dogs recommend a tetanus booster not because pets give tetanus to people, but because the tetanus spores, so plentiful in the environment, can invade any wound.

Q: My dog Rosie often looks guilty when I arrive home from work. She lowers her head, drops her ears, looks away and tucks her tail. When she had that look in the past, I'd find she'd broken into the trash or chewed a pillow, so I'd punish her.


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