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Department of Agriculture, New South Wales

Goat health -tetanus

Agfact A7.9.2, second edition 1986, R.N. North, Veterinary Office, Division of Animal Health, Newcastle.


Goats are very susceptible to tetanus. Tetanus is caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. These bacteria live in the soil, in faeces and in dust on the goat's skin. When a penetrating wound occurs, tetanus bacteria may multiply in the wound and produce a powerful toxin.

Puncture wounds caused by nails, wire, dog bites, grass seeds, or cuts from castration, dehorning, hoof trimming or surgical operations can result in tetanus infection. Difficult kiddings may bruise the kid and set up tetanus.


Tetanus toxin affects the brain and nervous system producing the following clinical signs:

  • stiff limbs and tail

  • jaws clamped together ('lockjaw')

  • saliva drooling from mouth

  • pricked ears

  • third eyelid prolapsed across the eye

  • eventually a rigid paralysis, and death in about 2 days.

The signs appear from a week up to 3 weeks from the time of infection. Kids showing tetanus from a difficult kidding develop signs at 7 to 10 days of age.


Treatment is seldom successful, so the answer lies in prevention by vaccination.

Locate the wound if possible. Look for nail punctures in the hooves. Open the wound up and flush out with antiseptic.

Tetanus antitoxin is available commercially but is very expensive. Valuable animals may be treated by a veterinarian with high doses into the vein twice daily. The veterinarian would also treat the animal with high doses of antibiotics injected into the muscle. Treatment is likely to be prolonged and certainty very costly.


All kids should receive two doses of vaccine:

  • one at 6 to 8 weeks of age, and

  • the second 4 to 6 weeks later.

Booster doses are recommended every 6 months.

Give previously vaccinated does their booster dose a month prior to kidding. This gives protection to the kids through the colostrum for 8 to 10 weeks.

Tetanus vaccination is usually given in conjunction with vaccine for other clostridial diseases such as enterotoxaemia (as 2-in-1 vaccine).

Undesired reactions

Some dramatic side effects may be seen with vaccinations in goats — anaphylactic shock can occur directly after the injection. The animal may fall down, gasping for breath and frothing at the mouth. These reactions often last only a short while, but occasionally the effects are fatal.


For further information on control and prevention of tetanus in goats, consult your veterinary practitioner, veterinary inspector or the Department of Agriculture.

© 1986 N.S.W. Dept. Ag.