Odds in Parlay the puppy’s favor


The black Labrador retriever survived tetanus despite the odds being against him

Parlay walking on a water treadmill at the Texas A&M University Small Animal Teaching Hospital while being treated for symptoms related to tetanus. (Image courtesy of Jason Nitsch ‘14/Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences)

Parlay walking on a water treadmill at the Texas A&M University Small Animal Teaching Hospital while being treated for symptoms related to tetanus. (Image courtesy of Jason Nitsch ‘14/Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences)

Parlay, a black Labrador retriever named after the gambling term referring to a series of bets, was diagnosed with tetanus, a disease of the nervous system that is caused by a toxin-producing bacteria, put his gambling name to the test as his veterinary team at the Texas A&M Small Animal Teaching Hospital (SATH) as they worked to save his life.

According to an organizational release, in his litter, Parlay was an energetic puppy with a loving and curious personality.1 Born into a show dog family, he was also the pick of the litter once he was born. Wendy Knox, Parlay’s owner, was introduced into the world of show dogs through her parents after they picked it up as a hobby once all their children went to college.

“He’s such a great puppy, and he’s always been like that,” said Wendy Knox, Parlay’s owner, in the release.1 “I stayed with him and the rest of his litter 24/7 for the first four weeks of their lives. That’s something I do with every litter. Because of that, I know all the puppies in a litter pretty well, but Parlay is special.”

However, her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2012, leading Wendy to take over showing her parent’s dogs. After her mother passed away 19 months after her diagnosis, Knox, her father, and her husband continued to show the dog to maintain this connection with her mother.

In December 2023, Knox noticed Parlay had a small and swollen bump on the left side of his face after he spent the day outside playing with his cousin Kinselee. Knox explained that she had originally examined the bump and thought it was a bee sting. Since he was still acting healthy and happy, she decided to give him some Benadryl and keep an eye on him in the house for the rest of the day. The next day he started showing signs of stiffness, so Knox made an appointment with the local veterinarian the following Monday morning.

“Sunday evening, we decided he was probably experiencing a scorpion sting instead of a bee sting, but overall, he still seemed pretty healthy,” Knox said. “That was not the case on Monday morning. He was having trouble getting off his doggy bed and when he did, he was much stiffer. Worst of all, it seemed like he was having trouble breathing.”

Once at the clinic and the team heard he was having trouble breathing, the team took him in for an examination right away. Fifteen minutes after they got to the clinic, they diagnosed him with tetanus. According to the release, tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is caused by Clostridium tetani, which is found in soil, dust, manure, and everywhere else in the natural environment.1 Tetanus affects nerves, the spinal, cord, and the brain which can lead to hyperexcitability and muscle spasms and can present with stiffness in the limb or muscle closest to the wound, a stiff gait with tail held up or extended out.2 The virus can progress to the point where pets are unable to stand because the stiffness is preventing them from bending their legs.

For Parlay, the team explained to Knox that the severity of the effects of the toxin on Parlay’s nervous system makes the administration of antitoxin a massive part of the patient's survival. The team recognized that he would need advanced emergency care so the team instructed Knox to take Parlay to the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. To help get her and Parlay there safely, the veterinary team treating him called other clinics in the area to find antitoxin they could administer to Parlay. The team was able to provide Know with an antitoxin they had on hand for equine patients, packaged up two bottles, and sent them on their way to Texas A&M, encouraging her to drive safely, but quickly.

Once they arrived at SATH, Cody Riffe, DVM, greeted them and assured them that they were going to do everything they could to save Parlay. While at SATH, Parlay began to experience severe symptoms leading to additional ailments, which is a challenge common to patients with tetanus.

“Parlay had difficulty eating and drinking due to the lockjaw; limb weakness as a result of the severe tightening of the muscles that made it so that he was unable to walk or support his weight; and aspiration pneumonia, likely a result of the toxin attacking the nerves in his throat and esophagus, which allowed saliva or food to enter his airway,” Riffe said.1 “Our team worked around the clock to make sure Parlay had the care he needed to combat all his ailments.

“He was here for almost 2 weeks and during that time, his muscles became locked in an extended position,” Riffe said. “Muscle strength will quickly decline without the constant activity of bearing weight and moving through space, so we referred him to the SATH’s Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation Service to help him strengthen his muscles and live a more comfortable, activity-filled life.”

Parlay still needed assistance walking and standing when he was discharged from SATH, but he had improved nonetheless. Knox and Parlay were discharged with a full body harness to help support his wait.1 Knox shared that the day after they got home, he was trying to walk again on his own with the harness and achieved that goal later on in the day.

Four months after his diagnosis, Parlay is easing back into his routine as a show dog in preparation for his first show season. Knox and her family have integrated some of his physical therapy into walks around the property, such as walking backward to rebuild muscle. Now that the weather is warmer, the family is planning to have him swim in the pool for hydrotherapy. With his health on the mend, Knox and the family are grateful for the care SATH provided to Parlay.

“Every single person I’ve encountered at the Small Animal Teaching Hospital — it doesn’t matter whether they’re in the pharmacy or billing or serving as a technician or clinician — everybody was so nice, professional, and considerate. I have nothing but good things to say, and that’s why I’d recommend anyone in a similar situation bring their animals to Texas A&M,” Knox concluded.1


  1. Knight R. Betting On Parlay: Puppy Overcomes Tetanus With Help From Texas A&M Veterinarians. Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Published May 1, 2024. Accessed May 6, 2024. https://today.tamu.edu/2024/05/01/puppy-overcomes-tetanus-with-help-from-texas-am-veterinarians/
  2. Williams K, Barnette C. Tetanus in Dogs. VCA Animal Hospitals. Published 2009. Accessed May 6, 2024. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/tetanus-in-dogs
Related Videos
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.