Symptoms of Tetanus in Cattle


Although tetanus is uncommon in cattle, it can occur. The disease generally results when a penetrating or puncture wound is infected with the bacteria Clostridium tetani.

Once in the animal's body, tetanus remains in the area of the wound, producing toxins that attack the brain, spinal cord and central nervous system. It's an anaerobic bacteria, requiring no air. Fortunately, keeping your herd up to date on core vaccinations will prevent tetanus in your cattle.

Tetanus Symptoms

In cattle, early signs of tetanus include ear erection, tail stiffening and elevation, and the appearance of the third eyelid. The characteristic "lockjaw" -- an inability to fully open or close the mouth -- that gives the disease its nickname may or not appear. As the disease progresses, tetanus symptoms include:

  • Intense muscle spasms, with muscles eventually hardening.
  • High fever.
  • Noise and light sensitivity.
  • Lack of coordination.

In the final stages, the affected animal goes down. Approximately 60 percent of untreated cattle will succumb to the disease. With treatment, there's a good chance of survival, which isn't the case in other species stricken by tetanus.


  • Carefully wash out any wounds on your cattle with antibacterial soap and apply appropriate wound sprays. If an animal suffers a penetrating wound, contact your vet.

Tetanus Treatment

Your vet treats tetanus by tranquilizing the affected bovine, then administering antibiotics, usually penicillin. She might give the animal tetanus antitoxin, which can be used prior to symptoms appearing in a cow who has experienced a penetrating wound.

Supportive Care

It can take a week to a month of supportive care to ensure the animal will survive. That includes ensuring that the cow or calf can eat and drink. It might require intravenous feeding to prevent dehydration. You might have to tube feed the animal liquid nourishment or heavily wet down cattle feed. Keep the animal away from the herd in as quiet an environment as possible.

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