A six-year old Welsh spaniel called Morgan had a lucky escape from a devastating disease – tetanus, which is uncommon and potentially fatal in dogs.
When Morgan’s owner noticed a “small puncture wound” on her paw, he didn’t think anything of it. But as Morgan stopped eating, her vet suspected it might be tetanus and referred her to Scarsdale Vets’ hospital Pride Veterinary Centre for further investigation. Also known as lockjaw, tetanus is a painful and often deadly disease caused by a bacterial toxin that affects one’s nervous system, leading to painful muscle contractions.
Upon admission Morgan was examined by Veterinary Neurologist Juanjo Mínguez.
“At first Morgan only presented mild clinical signs of tetanus,” he said. “Usually, we would expect to see the worst phase of the disease after around two weeks, but Morgan experienced this after only 4-5 days.
“Generalised tetanus is serious, but when the animal starts to present autonomic signs too (fluctuating heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhoea etc.) then that really is the worst-case scenario, with the worst prognosis. Morgan was experiencing both within a very short amount of time, which made her case extremely serious – and even more impressive that she was able to fully recover.”
Juanjo started Morgan on a course of medication which included muscle relaxants, pain relief, sedatives and given the suspicion that it could be tetanus, antibiotics to fight the bacteria that causes the disease – Clostridium tetani. Morgan also had her paw cleaned, checked for foreign bodies, and stitched up.
But when Morgan woke, she had deteriorated; she couldn’t eat, move and was just lying on the floor stiff, with all four limbs extended. Due to the intense muscle spasms she was now experiencing, her blood pressure and heart rate increased, and she was becoming hyperthermic – where the body’s heat-regulation system becomes overwhelmed, causing the body temperature to soar.
“Tetanus is caused by toxins binding to the muscle receptors which affects the nervous system, spinal cord and brain, resulting in constant seizures and muscle spasms, which is very painful,” Juanjo explains.
“It can also affect the dog’s breathing and, in most cases, dogs with tetanus won’t survive or will sadly have to be euthanised. If a dog can survive the two-week period where the disease is at its worst – until the toxins eventually decay – a full recovery is possible, if the dog can be kept alive.”
In order to save Morgan, a multidisciplinary approach and careful management were essential. Pride’s neurology, internal medicine, ICU, surgery, anaesthesia, nursing, Vets at Night and physiotherapy teams all worked together to treat Morgan.
Due to the severity of her case, ICU had to be isolated for Morgan, who spent two weeks there, mostly sedated to keep her as relaxed and pain-free as possible. She had a urinary catheter in place to prevent urine burns or scalds to her skin and was drip fed liquid food.
Georgia Bollington, ICU Veterinary Nurse explains, “Morgan was attached to a multi-parameter machine so we could constantly monitor her heart rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and temperature. This enabled us to adjust and change her medication and nursing interventions, to ensure that Morgan stayed as relaxed as possible.”
“When she was too hot, we gently placed her on a cool mat, positioned a fan nearby and surrounded her with ice packs. We also would use lukewarm water to dampen her down too, which worked well for an hour or so, before she become too hot, so it was a constant battle between keeping Morgan from becoming too hot or too cold.”
“Morgan’s case was a big learning curve, as I’d never seen a tetanus case that severe. There was something about Morgan – the fire that both she and her owner had throughout her time at Pride, made everyone all the more determined to help her. It was emotional to see her finally recover – even when she managed to drink a bowl of water on her own, you wouldn’t believe it was the same dog that was once so poorly.
“It was brilliant how everyone came together to treat Morgan – we even had a WhatsApp group so staff could check how she was doing even when they weren’t working!”
Following a month at Pride, which included round-the-clock treatment by eight different teams and two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) – the longest any dog has spent in ICU at Pride – Morgan she is now back to her normal, bouncy self. She is at home with her owner, running around like nothing ever happened.
The Pride veterinary team recommends, “If your dog develops muscle stiffness, or any of the above clinical signs following an injury or wound, consult your vet immediately.”
Images by Scarsdale Vets