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This article was published in 1968-69
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Tetanus in a Cow

C. H. R. DENT, B.V.Sc., Veterinary Inspector, Carcoar, N.S.W.

Tetanus is only occasionally seen in adult cattle;1,2,3 the relative insusceptibility of cattle compared to other species is said to arise from the regular multiplication of Clostridium tetani in the alimentary tract of normal cattle, with consequent toxin-absorption and antitoxin-production. Another factor affecting the low incidence of the disease in adult grazing cattle is their comparative lack of exposure to environments heavily contaminated with Cl. tetani. Introduction of this organism to the genital tract at the time of calving is believed to be its most frequent portal of entry in cattle.1,2,3


A well-grown home-bred horned Hereford cow two years old, which had calved 14 days previously, was examined in mid-June, 1968. Twenty-four other adult cattle, and 980 sheep were grazing on the property, a 570-acre mixed farm near Carcoar, N.S.W. No horses were kept on the property.

Six weeks prior to examination the subject cow, which had never been drenched or vaccinated, was put on to a 40-acre wheat-stubble paddock with all the other cattle; just after calving, this cow and its herd mates were moved to an adjacent 150-acre paddock of "supered" natural pasture where they remained.

This latter paddock is frequently traversed by the owner in his daily routine, and the cow was first seen "down" in the morning of the day of the writer's examination in mid-June, 1968. She was lying on the overnight "camp" of the mob and was in left lateral recumbency on the side of a fairly steep hill, with her limbs directed down the slope.


When the animal was quietly observed from a short distance, both fore- and hind-limbs were stiff, and fine muscle-tremors of many skeletal muscle-groups and a slight muco-purulent vaginal discharge were also evident.

On approaching the animal for closer examination, exaggeration of the limb-stiffening occurred and opisthotonus developed. Close examination revealed trismus, partial prolapse of the Membrana Nictitans, retracted eyelids, dilated nostrils, erect cars and an alert, anxious expression. Constipation was evident. Normal heart and pulse rates, temperature 103°F., a slightly increased respiratory rate (36 respirations per minute) breathing being thoraco-abdominal in type and dyspneic in character, and abdominal tympany with only occasional ruminal or intestinal movements, were heard on auscultation.

The owner elected to destroy the animal soon after the writer's examination.


It is considered that the most-likely portal of Clostridium tetani infection in this cow was via the genital tract at the time of calving some two weeks previous to examination and destruction.


  1. Disease of Cattle (American Vet. Publications, 1963), 2nd Edit., edited by W. J. Gibbons, pp. 617-621
  2. Veterinary Medicine (Bailliere, Tindall & Cox, 1960). 1st Edit. Blood and Henderson, pp. 394-398
  3. Diseases of Domestic Animals in Australia (Commonwealth Dept. of Health, 1965) Part V. Volume 1, 2nd Edit., edited by H. E. Albiston, pp. 87

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