How to Prevent Tetanus in Horses

Horses are very susceptible to tetanus (lockjaw) throughout the entire world.[1] It is important to care for horses by preventing tetanus from occurring at all, rather than trying to cure it after the fact because few horses ever recover from tetanus. This article explains what to do.


  1. Image titled Prevent Tetanus in Horses Step 1
    Understand the importance of preventing tetanus in your horse. Horses are very vulnerable when infected by the bacteria that causes tetanus, Clostridium tetani.[2] The bacteria can enter through what might seem like a harmless cut or scrape to your eyes, but is an easy entry point for the bacteria and it may well be too late to do anything by the time you realize that your horse is suffering from tetanus.
  2. Image titled Prevent Tetanus in Horses Step 2
    Immunize your horse regularly. Every domestic horse should be immunized against tetanus.
    • Vaccinate pregnant mares about 4–6 weeks prior to birth with tetanus toxoid. This will pass the immunity on to the foals via the colostrum. Doing so will protect foals for the first 2–3 months of their life.[3]
    • The initial vaccination for foals from a vaccinated mare should be given in a course of 3 vaccinations: the first vaccination for tetanus at 6 months of age, followed by booster vaccinations at 7 and 8 to 9 months of age.[4]
    • The initial vaccination for foals from non-vaccinated mares should be at 3–4 months, then a second at 4–5 months, then a third at 5–6 months.[5]
    • For a horse that has never received a tetanus vaccination, this should commence immediately. This should be 2 doses about 3–6 weeks apart.[6]
    • Ensure that each horse receives an annual booster.[7] Do not neglect it, as the immunity runs out after this period of time.
  3. Image titled Prevent Tetanus in Horses Step 3
    Recognize the signs of tetanus in your horse. If your horse has not been vaccinated and gets a cut or open wound, these are the signs that you might encounter:
    • Stiff gait, head thrown forward, nostrils distended and muzzle has a square appearance[8]
    • Localized stiffness around jaw, neck and hind limb muscles, as well as around area of the wound[9]
    • Body becomes stiffer and stiffer until it appears like a board, or has a "sawhorse" posture[10]
    • Legs are held out wider than usual and hind legs may be turned out[11]
    • Tail held out stiffly[12]
    • Horse becomes easily excited by noise or movement, resulting in violent spasms[13]
    • Difficulty grasping or chewing food (lockjaw)[14]
    • Ears erect, nostrils dilated, third eyelid sunken[15]
    • Horse may fall and not be able to get up again.[16]
  4. Image titled Prevent Tetanus in Horses Step 4
    Get immediate vet attention for a horse that has not been vaccinated or whose vaccinations are not up to date (i.e., has not received yearly booster shots). The vet will need to administer tetanus anti-toxin.[17] Do not wait for symptoms; as soon as you note a cut or wound, get the vet. Incubation period for tetanus is 3–21 days, usually showing within 8–14 days.[18][19]


  • The feces of horses, dogs, cats, and humans can harbor the bacteria.[20][21]
  • Tetanus is not contagious and humans cannot catch tetanus from a horse.[22] This means that if humans are injured around horse stables by puncture wounds, they should also check their tetanus immune status.
  • Spores of Clostridium tetani persist in the soil, and tend to be worse in cultivated soil rather than uncultivated soil.[23] The tetanus spore is found more on moist arable land or heavy land than on old, light and dry pasture.[24]


  • Even with vaccinations, be vigilant if your cut is hurt or wounded in any way, and if you suspect that your horse needs vet attention, never delay.
  • Recovered horses are not immune and require yearly tetanus vaccinations.
  • Once tetanus sets in, it is very hard to treat and the vet will usually put down (euthanize) the horse.[25][26]
  • The point of entry may be difficult to find if a wound has healed.[27]

Things You'll Need

  • Veterinary care
  • Booster shots and annual shots

Sources and Citations

  1. Eddie Straiton, Horse and Pony Ailments: Recognition and Treatment, p. 65, (2001), ISBN 1-86126-398-8
  2. Pfizer, Tetanus Information Page,
  3. Trisha Fisk, Practical Smallfarming in New Zealand, p. 148, (2009), ISBN 978-0-14-301089-0
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Article Info

Categories: Horse Health