Sweep Sutcliffe – the gentle giant

Mastiff tetanus

Sweep is a 3-year-old mastiff who came into the surgery at the end of December with a sore toe on her left back leg.  Lameness in dogs is very common and is not usually caused by anything serious.

No obvious cause or injury could be found on Sweep so pain relief was started.

Unfortunately, over the next 48 hours, Sweep’s foot became more and more painful and on Christmas Day her owners brought her back into the surgery.  Sweep was sedated, her foot thoroughly examined and an x-ray taken of her foot but still, no cause could be found.  Antibiotics were started, as we suspected an infection may be the cause of her ongoing lameness.

There was still no response to treatment and by the end of December, the whole of Sweep’s leg was swollen.  Repeat sedation and biopsies of her affected leg did not shed any light on the cause – and then things took a turn for the worse.

Sweep re-presented at the surgery with, as her owner described, “odd eyes”. On examination, it appeared that Sweep was unable to blink properly, she wasn’t eating well (although she did manage to eat gravy bones in the surgery!) and her facial expression appeared to be “frozen”.  Alarm bells started to ring and there was a suspicion that Sweep actually had a condition called tetanus with the classic presentation of Risus Sardonicus – an abnormal contraction of the facial muscles.

Tetanus is caused by a bacteria called “Clostridium Tetani” which release a neurotoxin that causes progressive muscle paralysis.  The bacteria is often found in soil and in most cases enters the body via a small penetrating injury e.g. standing on a nail or a similar injury.

There is no definitive test for tetanus and diagnosis is usually based on presenting clinical signs.

Mortality rates vary from 50-90% depending on how severe the presenting symptoms are.

We immediately referred Sweep to Langford Veterinary Referral Hospital for further investigation. After initial tests, she was sent back to us at the Bridgwater surgery for intensive 24-hour support from our fabulous team of nurses.

She stayed with us at the Bridgwater surgery for 4 nights until she was eating better and happier in herself.

Sweep still has a slightly swollen toe but in all other ways has recovered fully. She was one of the lucky ones.

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