Tetanus in Goats: Transmission, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prognosis

Episode 106
For the Love of Goats

Tetanus in Goats featured image

Almost everyone has a tetanus shot to protect us from a deadly disease that can be transmitted from an injury that breaks through the skin.

Although some animals are not as susceptible to tetanus, such as dogs and cats, goats can get tetanus. Like humans, which have been protected by the vaccine since the first world war, goats can also be protected from tetanus by a vaccine.

In this episode, which is sponsored by Colorado Serum, we are joined by Dr. Randy Berrier, Staff Veterinarian and Senior Vice President of Colorado Serum, which makes tetanus toxoid and antitoxin, as well as the CDT vaccine, which includes tetanus toxoid.

We are talking about how the disease is transmitted, what the symptoms are, as well as the prognosis once an animal is infected.

Dr. Berrier discusses the differences between the toxoid and the antitoxin and when it’s appropriate to give each one, as well as how adding the enterotoxemia vaccine to CDT affects the timing of boosters.

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Transcript – Tetanus in Goats

Introduction 0:03
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.

Deborah Niemann 0:18
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. This is a topic that you might think you know a lot about, but I have a feeling we are all going to get a really incredible education today. Today’s topic is tetanus, which, I mean, most of us have a tetanus shot, right? So, we probably do, like, have a pretty good idea of what it is.

Deborah Niemann 0:36
But, we are joined today by Dr. Randy Berrier, who is the Senior Vice President and Staff Veterinarian at Colorado Serum. Today’s episode is sponsored by Colorado Serum, which makes the CDT vaccine and just about any other vaccine that your goats could need. Welcome to the show today. Dr. Berrier!

Randy Berrier 0:56
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Deborah Niemann 0:58
It’s really good to have you. So, let’s just start with the basics, like I always like to do. Make sure everybody’s up to speed. Tell us exactly, like, what is tetanus, and why do we need to be concerned about it?

Randy Berrier 1:10
Well, tetanus is a disease. It’s caused by a bacteria, Clostridium tetani. And unfortunately, Clostridium tetani is everywhere. It’s ubiquitous in our environment. It’s part of the normal gut flora in most farm animals, especially, probably, more prominent in the intestinal flora in horses. But, it’s also found in in ruminants, like cattle and sheep and goats. So, every time they defecate, they’re seeding their environment with tetanus, Clostridium tetani. So, that’s the source of it, is in the soil, because this bacteria produces spores that can survive for many decades in the soil. And so, that’s why, you know, for even people that are susceptible to this, that you’re always supposed to get a tetanus shot if you step on a rusty nail, right? So, that’s what you always learned as a little kid. And, that may not be true if the rusty nail is actually on the second floor of your house, as opposed to being in the soil for two decades, but anyway, it’s a good rule of thumb.

Randy Berrier 2:04
The other thing about it is, it’s almost always going to cause disease through a wound as opposed to ingestion, or it’s not a contagious disease. So, you’re going to pick up the spores from the soil through a wound. So, the most common way that you’re going to get it, if you’re a goat, is through a wound—usually secondary to castration or disbudding. In sheep, tail docking. I know that’s not done so much in goats. But, even applying ear tags. Anytime you have a wound that allows for an anaerobic—which is “without oxygen”—anaerobic environment, that’s what Clostridium tetani loves, and they will proliferate in that environment. And, if they don’t respond, or they’re not vaccinated against that toxin, they will develop tetanus.

Deborah Niemann 2:54
Okay. And, what are the symptoms of tetanus when an animal gets it?

Randy Berrier 3:00
Well, “tetanus” is a term that comes from “tetani,” which is a spastic paralysis. And so, the tetanus toxin that’s produced actually causes a constant muscle contraction—spastic contraction—without rest. So, when you see an animal with tetanus, they’re in “tentani,” which means they’re in constant muscle contraction. And so, that’s why you get the lockjaw; they can’t open their mouth. That’s a common symptom. With ruminants, you’ll see at least mild bloat, if not more severe. They’ll have a sawhorse stance, because their muscles in their limbs, their legs, will be contracting, and they’ll be really stiff. And, their third eyelid will usually elevate. And so, you’ll see that kind of a flickering of the eye. That’s one of the first symptoms that you’ll see with ruminants and with horses. And, their ears will be straight back, or their tail might be sticking straight out. But, the early signs will be a little bit of stiffness, and an elevated third eyelid, and discomfort, and maybe quite a bit of vocalization.

Deborah Niemann 4:05
Okay. And then, I’ve heard that once an animal actually has it that the prognosis is not good.

Randy Berrier 4:12
That’s true, depending on how far along the clinical signs are. You know, one of the worst offending causes is band castration. And, I know that’s really popular with a lot of producers, because they don’t have to get a veterinarian involved, and it’s a lot easier. But, what happens is, when you put the band on there, it’s on there for at least a couple of weeks. The smaller the animal, the less time it’s on there, but the bigger the animal, the longer that band’s on there. And, that creates an anaerobic environment in the scrotum, which is just ripe for infection if that wound gets dirty at all, and so that is the biggest concern with banding castration. I’m not a big fan of that.

Randy Berrier 4:51
And, I think that when you cut castrate, it’s actually less risk, because it’s more of an open wound, and it gets more oxygen and less likely to have Clostridium tetani start to proliferate in that type of wound. Same thing with disbudding. It’s less likely with disbudding, because it’s not so much a puncture wound or a deep wound. But, you can still have tetanus cases with disbudding or with applying ear tags.

Deborah Niemann 5:18
Okay. When I first got started with goats… I don’t think I had goats more than a couple of years when I met somebody who, she and her brother had had sheep and goats in high school. And, they were absolutely adamantly opposed to banding, because they had lost some lambs to tetanus. And so, they were using a Burdizzo, and they were the first people that I knew who used a Burdizzo, because they didn’t want to risk tetanus.

Randy Berrier 5:41
Yeah. And, they probably never had a problem after that, I would assume. So.

Deborah Niemann 5:44

Randy Berrier 5:45
You know, a lot of times, with tetanus, you don’t even find a wound. I mean, sometimes they can get it naturally from a puncture wound or something like that, and you don’t even see. And, it’ll take maybe 7 to 10 days, or 14 days, before clinical signs will start to show up, and then you look for a wound, and you can’t find one. There’s no diagnostic test that will confirm tetanus. Tetanus is totally based on the clinical signs that you observe. And, if you have a history of recent castration or a wound to go along with it, that helps, but fortunately, the clinical signs are so pathognomonic that you can feel pretty confident when you see it that you know what it is. So.

Deborah Niemann 6:24
Yeah. And, you were saying that the quicker you can start treatment, the better the prognosis.

Randy Berrier 6:29
Right. So, once the toxin has bound in the neuron at the neuromuscular junction, like, if you were going to treat it with tetanus antitoxin and symptomatic treatment—so fluids and tranquilizing drugs and things like that—the antitoxin cannot bind to that toxin if it’s already bound in the neuron at the neuromuscular junction. So, what the antitoxin is going to do is bind to any free-circulating toxin in the system, but you’re not going to stop the symptoms that are already happening, in other words. So, you’ve got to wait for that toxin to degrade and go away, and hopefully the clinical signs aren’t too far along at that point that they can hopefully survive.

Randy Berrier 7:08
I’d say the point of no return is when an animal is down and can’t swallow. Usually, that means the toxin has reached their spinal cord, and it doesn’t matter how much antitoxin you throw at them, that’s not going to help. And, humane euthanasia is usually indicated, not just for goats, but any animal that presents that way. If they’re down, and they can’t swallow, that’s probably the point of no return. And, I’d say if you catch cases—even in cases with mild symptoms—probably the survival rate is about a 50/50 shot.

Deborah Niemann 7:40
So, how would you catch it early? Like, are there any symptoms you would see that would jump out at you as, like, “This is tetanus”?

Randy Berrier 7:46
Yeah. Usually it’s going to be mild stiffness and the elevation of the third eyelid. So, when you see that, and “Yeah, we castrated or put a band on this goat two weeks ago, and now he’s doing this.” Yeah, that’s when you gotta jump on it.

Deborah Niemann 7:59
Okay. And, the treatment then would be an antitoxin?

Randy Berrier 8:02
Well, antitoxin, for sure. But, the other key component to treatment is going to be antibiotics, because you’ve got to kill the bacteria that’s producing the toxin. The antitoxin is not going to touch the bacteria, and so you want to use antibiotics. Fortunately, tetanus doesn’t—Clostridium tentani hasn’t—mutated and hasn’t developed this antibiotic resistance. But, penicillin is a common antibiotic used in livestock for tetanus infections. Metronidazole. It may be off-label in goats; I don’t know for sure on that. But, that’s a commonly used one, especially in dogs, in the rare cases when dogs get tetanus, as well. But yeah, antitoxin is a key component to treatment, but antibiotics are just as important.

Randy Berrier 8:44
In cases where you have a band castrated animal, and it’s two weeks along, and you’re starting to see those clinical signs, it probably would be best to get the scrotum cut off at that point, because that’s where the source of the infection is. And, usually by that point, it’s pretty well shriveled up, and you might not have too much bleeding to deal with—or you might want to get a veterinarian, if it’s a little sooner after castration.

Deborah Niemann 9:09
Okay. And then, to prevent tetanus—because we can’t stop our goats from ever hurting themselves. And, some definitely seem to be more prone to hurting themselves than others. Obviously, the vaccine is the best thing. How does the vaccine work?

Randy Berrier 9:19
Well, the vaccine is a toxoid. So, it’s an inactivated toxin, and it’s almost… Except for being a little less purified, maybe, it’s pretty much the same thing as what we use for the human vaccine. So, it’s an inactivated toxoid, and it has a very good track record of efficacy. And, if you can get an animal vaccinated twice, anywhere from 3 to 5 weeks in between initial vaccination and the booster, then an annual booster thereafter, they should be adequately protected in the future.

Randy Berrier 9:55
And, I know with people, they have a 10-year duration of immunity established for the vaccine. And, I suspect it’s probably longer than a year in a lot of animals, but unfortunately, none of our vaccines have been tested for duration of immunity. So, we still have an annual revaccination claim on label that we recommend. So, I would suggest the vaccine protocol, assuming that your kids are from vaccinated nannies, you would want to give them their first CDT—I recommend the C the D and the T together—at about 8 weeks of age, followed by a booster 4 weeks later. And, just to be on the safe side, another booster 4 weeks after that, and an annual revaccination.

Randy Berrier 9:55
You know, CDT, as you as a goat producer and everybody listening probably knows, that’s the core vaccine for all goats and sheep. If you don’t get anything else, that’s what you’ve got to give. And then, as far as revaccinating, I’d recommend it in the nannies—about giving them their CDT booster—3 to 4 weeks before they kid. And then, they’ll concentrate real high levels of antibodies in the colostrum that’ll be passed on to the kid, and that should protect them for at least, hopefully, 6 to 8 weeks. And, that’s when you want to start vaccinating the kids.

Deborah Niemann 11:09
One of the questions I get sometimes is that, if somebody pen-bred a goat, they don’t know what her exact due date is.

Randy Berrier 11:15

Deborah Niemann 11:15
So, then they’re like, “Well, I don’t know when she’s 3 weeks away from kidding.”

Randy Berrier 11:19
Yeah. Right. It’s better to err on the side of caution. So, give it maybe 4 or 5 weeks before. If you give it 10 days or sooner, they won’t be able to concentrate those antibodies in the colostrum as well. There will probably be antibodies in there, even if you don’t vaccinate them, as long as they’ve been vaccinated at some point in the past, but you’re not going to get the extremely high level of antibodies in the colostrum that you’re going to get if you give them that booster 3 to 4 weeks before they kid. That’s ideal.

Deborah Niemann 11:47
So ideally, you should give it to them, then, about 3 weeks before the first possible due date?

Randy Berrier 11:54

Deborah Niemann 11:55
Okay. And then, I noticed that Colorado Serum also has a number of other vaccines that include tetanus. Why would somebody want to use one of those other ones instead of a CDT?

Randy Berrier 12:06
Well, we have a tetanus toxoid that’s a monovalent vaccine, with no other antigens in there that you can give. But, for goats, if you’re not concerned about the C and the D, you could give tetanus by itself. But, I don’t know too many situations where you’re not concerned about C and D and goats. As a matter of fact, it’s been reported that goats don’t really have a long duration of immunity to the diffraction in the C, D and T vaccines. And, in some textbooks, it’s recommended to give C, D and T two to three times a year to goats. That’s not so much because of the concern for tetanus, but it’s because they don’t seem to respond as well to the D fraction that’s in there.

Randy Berrier 12:46
So, for example, if you don’t want to give the tetanus fraction that frequently, because it’s probably not necessary, you could just give C and D twice a year, and maybe come back and give the tetanus once a year, that kind of thing. So, there’s other companies that make an 8-way—I think Covexin 8, for example—which is probably more antigen load than you want to give a goat or a sheep, because those other clostridials in there aren’t really that big of a problem, although they can all happen and sheep and goats. But, like, the black leg, and the black disease, and the, you know, red water, and those other clostridials aren’t as common a problem in sheep and goats. And so, it’s not really necessary. But, there is a Covexin 8 that I do think is labeled for sheep—I don’t know about goats—that does have a tetanus fraction in there, as well, that you could give, but I think that’s a little overkill. No pun intended. But, C, D and T is probably the best product to give, in most cases, to goats.

Deborah Niemann 13:45
Yeah. I think sometimes people look at things and they’re like, “Oh, well, this vaccinates against eight things instead of just three, and eight is more than three. And that’s better, right?”

Randy Berrier 13:54
Yeah. Well, it is if you’re at risk of getting all eight of those things, but I think, you know, most situations in goats, they’re a lot higher risk of getting C, D, or tetanus than they are the other clostridials that are in there.

Deborah Niemann 14:07
Yeah, exactly. Somebody asked about that recently. And, the other person who helps me answer questions online, she was like, “Uh, goats don’t get most of these other diseases.”

Randy Berrier 14:17
I mean, they can. They can. But, it’s very rare. So, you know, it’s kind of a risk-benefit analysis for every producer and what they’re commonly at risk for. You know, things like that.

Deborah Niemann 14:28
Is there anything else that people should know about the tetanus vaccine?

Randy Berrier 14:32
That it works really well. The crazy thing about it: If an animal gets tetanus and survives it, there is no immunity from natural exposure. Which is kind of crazy, when you think about it, because most diseases are just the opposite. Like, you know, most other diseases, if you survive it, you know, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”—the old saying—and with tetanus, that’s not the case. But, what’s bizarre about it is the vaccine does protect you, and in the case of humans, it protects you for 10 years—and again, I think probably it is longer than a year for most farm animals, as well. But, I know in France, they’re vaccinating horses every two years instead of every year.

Randy Berrier 15:14
And, some other interesting things about tetanus is the susceptibility of the different species to tetanus. Some animals are actually more or less resistant to it. Like carnivores. Most carnivores—dogs and cats. Dogs are probably a little more susceptible than cats. Very, very rare in cats. Dogs, we do have it happen every so often. Birds are pretty much resistant. Probably the most susceptible farm animal—or animal in general—are horses. Horses and guinea pigs. And then, ruminants are a little further down the list. Cattle probably are less susceptible than sheep, and goats are somewhere in between there. So, that plays a role, as well, on the risk. You know, that’s why we don’t have a vaccine for dogs and cats for tetanus, because they’re not at very high risk of it at all. So yeah, it’s an interesting disease from a lot of different standpoints. And, I can’t tell you why horses are so much more susceptible than, say, pigs or dogs, but they are.

Randy Berrier 16:11
And, the other thing to be wary of is the environment you’re in. So, if you are on a horse property, then there’s probably a lot more tetanus in the soil than a suburban home situation. And, if you just have goats, it’s probably a little less tetanus in your environment than if you had horses. So.

Deborah Niemann 16:29
Wow, that is really fascinating! I never thought about that before, that your dog and cat do not get a tetanus shot. I mean, they’re not at any less risk of, you know, getting physically injured than any of the rest of us.

Randy Berrier 16:29
Yeah, normally you get a dog that gets a cut, or a puncture wound—or a cat; ou take them into the vet; and they treat the wound. And, sometimes they have to suture up the wound or whatever, and you always want to put them on antibiotics. But yeah, you don’t have to worry about a tetanus vaccination or an antitoxin. But, you never say “never,” because there’s always those isolated cases, and I do get two or three calls a year from veterinarians wanting to use tetanus antitoxin in a dog that presents with tetanus—and usually those are dogs that come from horse properties or something like that. So, I’ve had one case in 20 years reported in a cat. So, you never say “never,” but…

Deborah Niemann 17:21
Yeah, exactly. I never say “never.” One of my goats died from a rodent disease. So, that kind of taught me early on, like, “Yeah, some of these things will jump species every now and then.”

Randy Berrier 17:30
Right. And, animals don’t always read the textbooks.

Deborah Niemann 17:33
Yeah. That’s really fascinating, though, because I think about it, and I’m like, “So, one of my daughters was bitten by a dog. One was bitten by a cat.” And, they wanted them to make sure they were up-to-date on their tetanus vaccines. But, when my dogs got in a fight and got bitten, the vet didn’t say anything about a tetanus vaccine. Just, you know, “Antibiotics.” That was it.

Randy Berrier 17:50
Right. That’s true for 99.999% of the dog situations like that, that have bites or wounds.

Deborah Niemann 17:57
Yeah, that’s really interesting. So, where exactly does the antitoxin fit in?

Randy Berrier 18:03
Well, tetanus antitoxin, it’s been around for a long time. It’s an equine-origin serum antibody product. So, we use horses, since they’re so susceptible to tetanus. We gradually hyper-immunize them to the point where they’re producing super high levels of antibodies, and then we bleed them intermittently and collect the serum, which has the antibodies in there. And, tetanus antitoxin has been used—even equine-origin tetanus antitoxin has been used—even in humans. It’s been used in the two World Wars to treat tetanus, because you can imagine with shrapnel wounds, and all the mud and everything that gets into those wounds, that people—soldiers—are very high risk of getting tetanus, and a lot of documented cases of that. And, equine-serum-origin tetanus antitoxin probably saved quite a few soldiers lives in those wars. So, I think they still have an antitoxin for humans; I’m not sure if it’s still equine-origin, or if they now have human-serum tetanus antitoxin, or both. So, this is not new technology, but it’s very efficacious technology.

Randy Berrier 19:07
So, you’re giving passive immunity in the form of antibodies produced in a horse to a recipient animal that’s either not vaccinated and is at a high risk of developing disease—because, you know, they have a wound of some kind—or you’re actually treating an animal with much higher doses that has signs of tetanus. So, those are the two indications for tetanus antitoxin. In an animal that’s up-to-date on their vaccinations—even a horse—if they have a wound, you don’t have to give tetanus antitoxin in all those cases. All they need is a tetanus toxoid booster and antibiotics. The same thing would be true for a goat. So, if you’re using it correctly, tetanus antitoxin is only used for temporary prevention, or treatment of tetanus in animals that either have tetanus or have not been vaccinated for tetanus. So, that’s kind of the difference.

Randy Berrier 19:58
And, because of the problems producing that product, we have a rolling backorder with it; it’s harder to find. And so, people need to start getting a good vaccine protocol so they don’t have to, hopefully, rely on tetanus antitoxin.

Deborah Niemann 20:13
On the CDT bottle—I don’t know if this is true with Colorado Serum, but I know on some of them—it says something like, “Use the whole contents when first opened.” Basically, you don’t, you know, vaccinate three goats today, and five goats next week, and six goats next month, and that kind of stuff. Is that for the enterotoxemia? Or, is that for the tetanus? Kind of what I’m thinking is, if you have an animal that gets injured, and you want to give them a booster, and you’ve got a half-empty bottle in your refrigerator, is that good enough? Or, should you go buy a fresh bottle at the store?

Randy Berrier 20:47
Well, the reason that disclaimer is on the label… It’s on the label for all of our products. And, that’s because, when it leaves here, we can guarantee that the product is sterile; there’s no contamination. In the case of a toxoid, there’s no active or live toxin in there. But, once it gets to the end user, everybody has different sterile technique. And sometimes, especially with farm animals, with herd animals, there’s potential to go back into a bottle with a dirty needle. And, even though we have preservatives in there, there’s a chance that that bottle, once it’s contaminated, and you stick it in your fridge for a month, and then you want to use it again, in that month’s timeframe, the contaminant has grown up in that bottle, and you’re injecting contaminated product into your animal, and there’s the possibility of having an abscess or even something worse pop up in your animal. So, that’s the main reason we have “Use entire contents when first opened.”

Randy Berrier 21:43
But, if you use a sterile needle, and use good hygienic technique, then you shouldn’t have to worry about contaminating the bottle. It’s not like the bottle is gonna go bad, or the potency of it’s gonna go bad once you’ve entered into it.

Deborah Niemann 21:57
Okay. I know there was one that I looked at one time that didn’t have a preservative in it. There’s a lot more vaccines available now than there were when I got started 21 years ago.

Randy Berrier 22:07
Yeah. So, I mean, antitoxin is more expensive than toxoid, and it’s harder to get than toxoid.

Randy Berrier 22:12
And, I think another thing that needs to be maybe elaborated on a little more, since people are band castrating: A lot of producers have gotten into this routine where they’ll band castrate and give a tetanus antitoxin to an animal, and then call it good. And, that’s usually going to be okay, doing that, especially if it’s in a week-old goat, because that band will fall off in two weeks or less.

Randy Berrier 22:37
But, I can tell you, after 10 to 14 days, the antitoxin is starting to degrade and go away, and if the band is still on, then that animal is susceptible to tetanus, even though it got a tetanus antitoxin at the time of banding. So, I have had cases with cattle and sheep and goats that were banded with a little older age or a little larger testicles, so the band stays on longer, where two weeks after they did this and gave an antitoxin, then all of a sudden they’re seeing clinical signs in their animal and thinking the antitoxin isn’t working. So, what’s happened is, the antitoxin has worn off, and the animal is still at risk because the band is still on. So, that’s another reason why I’m not a big fan of banding, especially in older animals.

Randy Berrier 23:27
But, a couple things you can do in that situation is give them another antitoxin after 10 days, or ideally would be, if you’re banding older animals, you would get a couple of doses of tetanus toxoid in them before you band them. If you’re banding, what would you say most people… What age are they banding goat kids? One, two weeks old?

Deborah Niemann 23:46
Most people are concerned about urinary calculi. So, they’re waiting until the kids are 2 or 3 months old.

Randy Berrier 23:52
So, in that situation, I would get two vaccinations with tetanus toxoid in them, ideally, before you band them. Alternatively, if they don’t want to work them more than once or more than twice, they could give them their first tetanus toxoid at three weeks prior to banding, and then another tetanus toxoid at banding. So, if you’re banding at the first 2 weeks of life, then if you’re vaccinating your nannies the way I described earlier, they should be protected; the kids should be protected. And, in the case of sheep with tail docking, or if you’re disbudding really young goats and castrating them at 1 to 2 weeks of age, they should be covered until those wounds are healed. But, if they’re waiting until they’re 2 or 3 months of age, I would recommend giving tetanus toxoid at 8 weeks, and then a booster 3 to 5 weeks after that, and then doing the procedure a week after that.

Deborah Niemann 24:46

Randy Berrier 24:47
I should mention something else that a lot of practitioners have done and seem to get away with, and that’s when you only can work the animals once and are reticent to work them more than that, and so you castrate and do all these things at the same time and put ear tags in and disbud or whatever. You can give a tetanus toxoid and tetanus antitoxin at the same time. In theory, you would think the antitoxin would neutralize the toxoid. But, there’s been studies that show—at least in horses and in people—that that’s not the case. And so, it seems anecdotally to be the case in the field, as well. So, what will happen is, they’ll give a toxoid and the antitoxin at the same time, and so the antitoxin covers that animal the first 10 to 14 days, and by then, the initial immune response to the toxoid is kicking in. So, they’re usually covered.

Randy Berrier 25:39
I have hardly ever heard of any cases of tetanus when that protocol is used, but I think it’s a little risky. But, if they can only work the animals once, that’s another option. As long as you don’t mix the antitoxin and the toxoid in the same syringe, because the antitoxin will neutralize the toxoid if you mix it in the same syringe. So, you’ve got to give two separate injections on either side of the animal.

Deborah Niemann 26:03
Oh, that is a really good tip! Thanks for sharing that.

Randy Berrier 26:06
I don’t know that that’s as common a problem in goats, because goats are a little easier to work than cattle. But, that’s a big deal in cattle, anyway.

Deborah Niemann 26:13
Yeah. I know I do have a few listeners who have larger herds, because they let me know. But, most of my listeners are people with, you know, 10 to 20 goats; they’re having kids. So, for them, the more common question is about, you know, like, “Well, can I vaccinate five kids this week?” And you know, “Three more kids in a couple of weeks?” And, you know, that question about reusing the same bottle all the time.

Randy Berrier 26:39
Right. Theoretically, they can use the same bottle, reuse a partial bottle, as long as they’re going in with a sterile needle—even wiping off the stopper with an alcohol swab and letting it evaporate in between uses, as well.

Deborah Niemann 26:52
I always thought it was really weird that people with livestock wanted to reuse needles, because they’re so incredibly cheap. It’s like, “This is the cheapest investment in your animals’ health care.” But, I guess if you have 5,000 head, then it starts to add up. But for, you know, most people, I think they’re okay with the idea of spending another 25 cents or something.

Randy Berrier 27:14
Yeah. I think with goat operations, usually, that’s not that big of an issue. I will also recommend not vaccinating or giving injections when animals are wet. That does seem to be more problematic, and a bigger risk of introducing environmental contaminants from the hair and the skin when you go in, even with a sterile needle. So, they don’t even recommend, you know, how we always go in for an injection, and we always get a cotton swab with alcohol on our arm first, or wherever we’re doing the injection. We don’t even recommend doing that with livestock. Because, you’re just kind of halfway liquefying the manure dust or whatever’s on their coat, and it makes it more likely that you’re going to inject that into the animal, even with a sterile needle. So, if it’s raining or something like that, and the animal is wet, we do have a higher risk of creating injection site abscesses.

Deborah Niemann 28:05
Okay. Wow, that’s really interesting, that they don’t recommend swabbing it with alcohol, because I’ve done that. And, I know that, yeah, it is really dirty. Like, you lift up the cotton swab, and it’s very dirty when you do that.

Randy Berrier 28:18
Yeah. I mean, that’s different if you’re going to be clipping it all the way down to the skin and doing a surgical scrub on it. That’s a different story. But, you’re not. I mean, you’re just giving a quick swab and an injection. They’ve done studies, believe it or not, in horses, and shown that you’re at higher risk. Or, if you’re injecting horses that are coming in from outside where it’s been raining, and they have a wet coat, same thing. You’re at higher risk of creating an injection site abscess than you would if you just gave it dry.

Deborah Niemann 28:46
Is it okay if you let the alcohol dry, or no?

Randy Berrier 28:52
Yeah. That probably would be better, but you’re gonna be waiting a little while.

Deborah Niemann 28:56
Okay, that’s really good to know. Do you have any suggestions on the site of a CDT—since most people are doing the CDT? I know a lot of people worry about abscesses. So, like, if they’re showing, they’ll do it under the armpit, so nobody can see if an abscess does form. Does it matter, really, as long as it’s sub-q?

Randy Berrier 29:15
It doesn’t really matter as long as it’s sub-q. But, I mean, I would say our product is pretty innocuous—although occasionally you will get a transient lump there. And, very rarely can you get an injection site granuloma. Now, that’s a concern for people showing animals, because I heard they get disqualified if they feel around and feel a knot on their animals, in some cases. So, giving it in the axillary space is a good place to give it, just because of its proximity to the lymph nodes, and under the arm as well. But, I’d say anywhere is probably more than adequate. I mean, even the side of the neck is a common place as well.

Deborah Niemann 29:53
Awesome. Is there anything else people need to know?

Randy Berrier 29:56
Yeah. So, the dose for antitoxin. First of all, you can’t overdose an animal with antitoxin. It’s not a pharmaceutical. There’s not a toxic level of antibodies that you can give; there’s not a toxic level of horse serum. Goats are more prone to allergic reactions, and because of that, as most goat producers know, they’re a little more sensitive—or a lot more sensitive—and they do seem to have more reactions to things that you inject into them. They’re probably a little more likely to have an allergic reaction to tetanus antitoxin than they are to tetanus toxoid. So, that’s another reason to get on a good tetanus toxoid or CDT vaccine protocol and try to avoid having to give tetanus antitoxin or C and D antitoxin. But anyway, because of the reactions that goats can have, people are worried about, “Well, this is, you know, a 2-week-old goat, and the antitoxin dose is 1,500 units for prevention.” That’s in a 5 mL dose. So, they’re concerned, “Well, I probably should only give this goat, you know, a half a dose, or a CC,” and that’s not the case. So, it’s regardless of size; 1,500 units is the dose that we recommend, whether it’s a 2-week-old or 2-year-old goat, for temporary prevention. And, if they’re suffering from actual signs of tetanus, and you’re going to be treating them—and I’d hope you’d have a veterinarian involved. But, the dose range actually goes up to 3,000 to 15,000 units for a treatment dose. So.

Deborah Niemann 31:23
That’s a really good thing to know.

Randy Berrier 31:25
And, the same thing with CDT. I mean, I don’t know how many people do this, but our product is a 2 mL dose. I know the Bar-Vac CDT has varied dose ranges depending on the species you’re using it in. But, our product is a straight 2 CC dose, regardless of whether it’s a 4-week-old or 8-week-old or 5-year-old goat.

Deborah Niemann 31:45
Yeah. Or a Nigerian Dwarf or a Boer goat.

Randy Berrier 31:49
And, I will also mention this, because I do get a lot of calls with goats that react to all kinds of things. Banamine—or flunixin meglumine, which is the same thing as Banamine—is a wonder drug for allergic reactions in goats. In all ruminants. So, it’s best for real severe, serious anaphylactic reactions if you would have, ideally, epinephrine or dexamethasone on hand, but Banamine also does wonders.

Randy Berrier 32:16
So, the target organ for anaphylaxis in ruminants are the lungs. And so, what you’ll see is, goats will start having problems breathing after you give them an injection, and maybe coughing, starting to shake. So, if you see that after vaccinating, or giving a tetanus antitoxin or any product, it’s best—if you don’t have anything else on hand—to get some Banamine into them. If you have dexamethasone or epinephrine on hand for serious reactions, that’s what you want to give. Goats are so much more prone for some reason than other domestic farm animals to shock. And, if you’ve been in the goat business long enough, you’ve probably seen at least mild cases of it.

Deborah Niemann 32:55
That’s a really great tip there for everyone. I know I always kind of felt uncomfortable without having epinephrine, because… I don’t know. When I got started in 2001, like, that was just one of those things in the Yahoo Groups. It’s like, “If you don’t have epinephrine on hand, you’re not a serious goat person.” So.

Randy Berrier 33:12
Yeah. Because, it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” with goats. It seems like you’re gonna see one react at some point.

Deborah Niemann 33:19
That has been really educational. I’m sure everyone learned a lot; I know I sure did. Thank you so much for joining us today!

Randy Berrier 33:26
Well, you’re welcome. And, thank you for having me. And, I think any other questions, we can do an addendum or something.

Deborah Niemann 33:33
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!

Tetanus in Goats

4 thoughts on “Tetanus in Goats: Transmission, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prognosis”

    • This is one of my favorite episodes!
      I’m glad that you found it so helpful.
      Thanks for sharing your feedback with us 🙂

  1. This is a great episode, as are all of them, but I was wondering if you are on a property that had horses at one time on it, would the soil still be ridden with tetanus? There has just been goats on it for the year and half and before that at least 5 years without horses. Before my sister got the property, I am not sure when horses were there last.
    Thanks so much for all the information!!

    • Hi Mandy
      I’m not exactly sure what your specific question is, but I hope this helps.
      Tetanus resides in the environment (mainly in soil) in general, and the spores can be infectious for decades. You don’t need horses for it to be in your soil, but they do tend to carry a higher load in their gut than other farm animals do.


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