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Do I need a tetanus shot for a dog bite?

Updated on February 18, 2012

What? A tetanus shot? Isn’t the painful series of rabies shots enough? Incidents of dog bites are on the rise. More than 2% of the population gets bitten by dogs every year. Most dog bite victims would know what first aid treatments must be given to the bite wound. As people are aware of the serious consequences of rabies, dog bite victims that are not sure of the dog’s rabies vaccination status would immediately go for a series of rabies shots. Tetanus is another life threatening disease that can result from dog bites. Unfortunately not many people are aware of this fact so that the need for tetanus shots after a dog bite incident is oftentimes ignored.

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What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a medical condition that is caused by the Clostridium tetani bacterium. This condition is characterized by muscle spasms that often cause the jaws to lock thus tetanus is otherwise known as lockjaw.  The bacterium is a hardy organism that can live in the soil for years. This organism that is also found in the stomach of animals produces a nerve toxin that severely affects the nervous system. Left untreated, tetanus can be the cause of death of the dog bite victim.

How does tetanus toxin affect a dog bite victim?


The tetanus bacteria will be transmitted through the saliva of the dog. The puncture wound caused by the dog bite will be the entryway of the bacteria. The bacteria delivered deep into the skin will thrive and multiply in the oxygen-free environment. The tetanus toxin that will be produced will bind with the nerves of the body. The toxin will affect the neuromuscular junction, the site where the nerve and the muscles interacts. Continuous muscle contraction and spasm will be generated when the chemical signal between the muscles and the nerves is amplified. These muscle spasms will result to lockjaws. If treatment is not administered the involuntary contraction of the muscles used to breathe will hamper the flow of oxygen to the brain and to the other major organs of the body. The breathing difficulties can result to the death of the dog bite victim.

Symptoms of tetanus

Headache, irritability, pain in the dog bite area and the muscle spasms are the symptoms of tetanus. The muscle spasms on the bite area will progress so that the entire body will be involved.

Tetanus shots after the dog bite

A tetanus shot is necessary if the dog bite victim’s last tetanus shot is more than 5 years. Tetanus shots are not necessary for children that were given booster shots less than 10 years ago. For dog bite victims that need tetanus shots, the shots must be given within 72 hours after the biting incident.

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