Dog survives near-fatal bout of tetanus thanks to veterinary team

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29 July 2020
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Welsh Springer Spaniel Morgan survived a near-fatal bout of tetanus thanks to an amazing team effort, reports Joanne Bednall.

Every owner believes their dog is special — but Andrew Parker has seven-year-old Morgan to thank for staying positive following his wife’s death three years ago.

In fact, if he hadn’t promised his American-born wife, Barbara, that he would buy a companion for her Shih Tzu, Mischa, as a wedding present, Andrew would probably not have a dog today.

“I researched medium-sized breeds before deciding on a Welsh Springer Spaniel,” explained Andrew, from Newark, Nottinghamshire. “We got Olsen and, in 2012, decided to get another Welsh Springer Spaniel as a companion for him.

“We went to see a litter and chose Morgan because she had a spot on her head. When we heard she was the first puppy to escape from the puppies’ pen, we knew we’d chosen the right one!” recalled Andrew, who’s 67 and retired. Despite this early desire for adventure, Morgan has since become a ‘Velcro dog’, who’s devoted to Andrew but can be nervous around people she doesn’t know.

“She won’t leave my side,” Andrew continued. “She loves barking — that would be her ‘Mastermind’ specialist subject!”

So, when Morgan started limping and holding her paw up one day last November, Andrew became concerned.

“I couldn’t see or feel anything,” said Andrew, who decided to take the spaniel to his local veterinary practice, Medivet Balderton, in Newark, after her condition deteriorated over the weekend. “Morgan’s legs looked a bit stiff; her eyes didn’t seem right; she stopped eating and didn’t seem herself,” he said.

Vet Kerry Earp found and removed a thorn from Morgan’s paw and suspected that she could be suffering from tetanus, a potentially life-threatening disease caused by bacteria infecting a wound, so referred her to Scarsdale Vets’ referral hospital Pride Veterinary Centre in Derby.

“It should have been a 50 – 60-minute journey but my satnav wasn’t working, there were roadworks, and I got hopelessly lost,” said Andrew. “Everything seemed to conspire against me — it took me three hours to get there, and I was in such a state that an intern had to come out and pick me up.”

On arrival, Morgan was examined by veterinary neurologist Juanjo (JJ) Mínguez. JJ felt sure she was suffering from tetanus, so started her on muscle relaxants, pain relief, sedatives, and antibiotics to fight Clostridium tetani — the bacteria that causes the disease. Morgan was then taken into theatre to have her paw wound thoroughly inspected, cleaned, flushed, and stitched up.

When Morgan came round from the anaesthetic, she had rapidly deteriorated. She couldn’t eat or move and was experiencing intense muscle spasms, which were causing her blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature to rise.

Morgan on oxygen in her cot at Pride Veterinary Centre.

THE WORST PHASE

When Andrew saw her the following day, the gravity of the situation finally hit home. “Morgan was in her cot, on oxygen, with tubes everywhere and I realised how poorly she was,” he said. “I really thought I’d lose her, and when she showed no improvement after two days, I asked JJ what we should do. He replied that she was fighting like mad, and there was still hope.”

Within five days, the spaniel was already experiencing the worst phase of the disease, which usually takes a fortnight to present. She was in the last chance saloon; most dogs don’t survive or sadly have to be euthanised at this stage.

But JJ knew that if Morgan could keep fighting through this critical two-week period, she had a chance. Pride’s multi-disciplinary team swung into action. Firstly, as Morgan was hypersensitive, she was isolated in the intensive care unit where the lights were turned low and noise was kept to a minimum to prevent spikes in her temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and the painful spasms. The anaesthesia team kept her sedated to ensure she was as relaxed and pain-free as possible, while the nursing staff battled round the clock to balance her temperature.

Eventually, after three weeks, Morgan started to show signs of recovery, and Andrew noticed an improvement in her condition every day.

“She knew I was there and wagged her tail,” said Andrew. Pride’s nursing and physiotherapy teams worked up a plan to help Morgan’s joints, which had become extremely stiff following the recurring spasms, seizures, and weeks spent bed-bound.

“I was sent a video of the physio team lifting each of Morgan’s paws to help her walk properly,” continued Andrew.

“Watching this made me feel much more positive — there was a huge improvement; I could see the determination in her face.”

The spaniel was lucky not to suffer further complications and was finally allowed home. Her seizures gradually decreased in intensity and frequency, while Andrew slowly increased her exercise.

“Morgan is now back to her usual, lively self,” added Andrew, who doesn’t know what he would have done if he’d lost her.

“She kept me going after Barbara died — taking her for walks got me out of the house and meeting people, so she’s extra-special to me.

“I have nothing but praise for my local vet and all the staff at Pride. There was even a WhatsApp group formed so staff could check on her progress, and a GoFundMe page raised £2,000 towards her vet bill.

“Words can’t express my appreciation and gratitude for all that they’ve done for Morgan. It’s nice to know there are still some really nice people in the world.”

VET’S VIEW

Pride Veterinary Centre’s neurologist Juanjo Mínguez (JJ) explained:

“Tetanus is caused by toxins binding to the muscle receptors, which affects the nervous system, spinal cord, and brain, resulting in constant, very painful seizures, and muscle spasms. It can also affect the dog’s breathing and, in most cases, dogs with tetanus won’t survive or will sadly have to be euthanised.

“Generalised tetanus is serious, but when the animal starts to experience signs such as a fluctuating heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure, vomiting, and diarrhoea, then that really is the worst-case scenario. However, if a dog can survive the two-week period where the disease is at its worst — until the toxins eventually decay — a full recovery is possible, providing the dog can be kept alive.”

JJ added that Morgan’s case had been special because of the way everyone worked together.

“The anaesthesia team did a fantastic job constantly reviewing and controlling her medication, the nursing team were by her side day and night for weeks, and the medicine team enabled her to eat. It was Morgan’s quick referral from her local vet, combined with our multi-disciplinary approach, and the perseverance of Morgan’s owner that gave her the best chance of recovery.”