Tetanus symptoms in cats

Updated March 23, 2017

The Merck Veterinary Manual defines tetanus toxaemia as a disease caused in mammals by a neurotoxin produced by the anaerobic bacteria Clostridium tetani in necrotic tissue, which causes muscles to spasm. C.tetani is found in the soil of places in warm climates and in animal intestinal tracts. Bacteria are introduced into a mammal's body through puncture wounds--for example, a bite from a tetanus-infected animal or puncture wound from a contaminated nail.

Cats are generally the most resistant to tetanus of all the mammals. For this reason, the United Kingdom's Provet Healthcare doesn't recommend giving cats regular tetanus vaccinations. However, if you own a cat, recognising the symptoms of tetanus in cats is still essential. The Merck Manual states that cats can still develop tetanus symptoms in a localised area after a long incubation period or exposure to the bacteria.

Rigid Limb or Spot

According to VetHelpDirect, cats often get tetanus bacteria from a fight wound in a particular spot or limb. If that wound is infected with tetanus, the area becomes completely rigid after a few days. Tetanus results in death when left untreated, so seek veterinary help if your cat experiences this symptom.


Provet Healthcare reports that, although tetanus in some pets can affect just one limb or region of the body, early signs of the disease in animals can include overreaction to sounds or any movement, also called hyperaesthesia. The slightest touch may stimulate muscle spasms.

Stiff Gait

Depending on which region of the body is affected, Provet Healthcare says that a tetanus-affected animal could also have an overall stiff gate. Cats may develop this symptom. A stiff gait isn't just a regular limp; the affected area is completely rigid and the cat trails it behind him.

Puncture Wound

Check for any deep puncture wound in the cat's stiffened limb or area. The presence of such a wound in a stiff limb or tail is a sign that tetanus has set in. In some cases, you might find an embedded tooth or claw from the infected animal in the wound.

Rare Symptoms

Because cats tend to have localised tetanus, other symptoms found in other afflicted mammals are rare with them. However, depending on the extent of the bacteria's infiltration, the Merck Manual says that a cat may develop the symptoms of generalised tetanus.

The Foothills Animal Hospital reports that this includes mild weakness, lack of coordination and constipation. While it causes complete lockjaw and head muscle spasms in horses, explains that tetanus usually causes difficulties in swallowing or opening the mouth in cats.

For cats that are severely affected by this disease, treatment is sometimes long and unrewarding. Even with plenty of professional care, tetanus can kill the infected cat.

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Rhonda McDowell launched her freelance career in 2008 by ghostwriting an e-book on health and gardening. Now, she writes primarily for eHow and enjoys delving into financial topics such as bankruptcy and foreclosure.