JUNE – SNIP, Is a smiling dog a bad thing?


Has your dog ever looked really surprised and happy to see you? Ears pricked to attention, eyebrows raised, wide-eyed and with an almost human-like smile on their face? Imagine if your dog looked surprised, smiling even, but then you realised they couldn’t help it. Almost as if the wind had changed, freezing their facial expression. Would you be concerned?

When Snip’s owners noticed that her ears were extra perky, and wouldn’t relax at all, they thought something was amiss. She then progressed to having a permanent ‘surprised’ look on her face. What was going on!?

Snip, looking mighty surprised to be in hospital.

What was it?

When Snip presented to us, she also had a slightly stiff gait. Her third eyelids were protruding and her facial musculature was very tense. Based on her clinical signs and the rest of her physical examination, a diagnosis of Tetanus was made.

Tetanus is quite common in dogs, but it’s usually seen more in tropical areas. It is caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani, which produces a toxin that results in the blocking of neurotransmitters than enable muscles to relax. Therefore, in cases of tetanus, muscle rigidity and constant contraction is the main feature. Tetanus is contracted in dogs in much the same was as it is in humans; the bacteria usually has to enter a wound (usually in the mouth when dogs are teething, although any wound can be a risk). Snip was searched for wounds but none were found.

What did we do?

Snip was a lucky dog – her case of tetanus was not particularly bad. Her disease mostly affected the muscles of her face, and to a small extent her legs. In severe cases, tetanus can cause animals to be so stiff that they are completely recumbent, requiring intensive hospital management. They can also suffer ‘lock jaw’, making them unable to eat or drink, so they require IV fluids and a feeding tube. Some animals struggle to blink due to their facial contractions and are often hypersensitive to light and noise stimuli, so require lubrication of their eyes and sedatives for comfort.

Snip underwent treatment for her tetanus, including tetanus antitoxin administration and antibiotic therapy. She was also treated with diazepam – a drug to help her muscles relax, which would make her more comfortable.

Is she still smiling?

Recovery from tetanus often takes some time, and it took a few weeks for Snip to slowly get back to normal. She is a loving and cheeky girl, and we are very glad that she has made a full recovery, she is still smiling, but in the normal doggy way!