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What is Discospondylitis (Spondylitis)?

Discospondylitis, also spelled as diskospondylitis, is an infection of the vertebrae and the surrounding cartilaginous discs. It is also referred to as vertebral osteomyelitis and the swelling created by this disease can cause severe pain as well as nerve damage in afflicted dogs if left untreated. If your pet is displaying the symptoms of this kind of disorder, don’t hesitate to contact a veterinary professional. Timely intervention will help to prevent permanent damage to the compressed nerves and to the bone surrounding the spinal cord.

Discospondylitis is the swelling of the vertebrae and the disks that surround them, as caused by either a bacterial or fungal infection.

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Symptoms of Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) in Dogs

The pressure that is put on the spinal cord due to swelling of the vertebrae and discs can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain or stiffness
  • Collapse
  • Depression
  • Fever
  • Hunched back
  • Lack of coordination
  • Lameness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Paralysis in one or more limbs
  • Poor reflexes
  • Reluctance to rise
  • Shaking
  • Staggering
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Yelping unexpectedly when touched or moving

Types

Discospondylitis (diskospondylitis) is an infection of the vertebrae and the discs that provide cushioning between the bones of the spine. If only the vertebrae are included in the infection, and the discs are spared, then it is known simply as spondylitis. 

There are a number of bacteria and fungi that can cause the infection that causes discospondylitis or spondylitis. These can include:

Bacteria

  • Brucella canis
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae
  • Escherichia coli
  • Pasteurella canis
  • Proteus spp
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus intermedius
  • Streptococcus spp

Fungi

  • Aspergillus terreus
  • Paecilomyces variotii
  • Scedosporium apiospermum
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Causes of Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) in Dogs

Several circumstances can increase the risk of this disorder developing. Previous infections such as UTI’s, abscesses, and contaminated wounds can move to the spinal column during treatment and proliferate unseen. Traumatic injuries that involve damage or fracturing of the bone can make it easier for the bacteria to invade the skeletal structure. Other conditions, such as chronic dental disease or post-operative complications, can influence the chances of this type of infection occurring. German Shepherd and Great Dane breeds are more likely to develop discospondylitis than other breeds.

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Diagnosis of Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) in Dogs

There are a few disorders with very similar symptoms, such as intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), that this condition will need to be differentiated from. A physical examination will help your pet’s doctor to evaluate the general health of your dog and will also assist her in pinpointing the location of the pain. Preliminary blood tests, such as a complete blood count and biochemistry profile, will be done to determine if there are any infections or imbalances present. An electromyogram can be used to determine the electrical activity of the muscles, and a spinal tap may be done as well to get a sample of cerebrospinal fluid. 

In most cases, the analysis of the fluid will reveal both that there is an infection, and which bacterium or fungus is causing the inflammation. Radiograph (x-ray) imaging will be used to help visualize the location and extent of the disease, and a neurological examination may be done as well. In many cases, a contrast dye will be injected into the space around the spinal cord to better see the fluid’s movement within the spine during the x-ray procedure.

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Treatment of Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) in Dogs

The medication will vary somewhat depending on what diagnosis is reached. Bacterial infections will be treated with antibiotics, while antifungals will be utilized to defeat fungal infections. The treatment time for infections that affect the bone is considerably greater than other infections. A course of antibiotics or antifungals for this type of infection will usually take at least six weeks and may take up to six months. Anti-inflammatory medications will also be required to both manage pain and reduce pressure on the spinal cord itself. In critical cases, surgical intervention may be needed to debride deep wounds or to lessen the compression on the spinal cord. Exercise restriction will most likely be recommended until the swelling has been significantly reduced to prevent further damage to the spine. Your dog will need to have periodic x-rays to monitor the progress of the spine until both the infection and the swelling have been eliminated.

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Recovery of Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) in Dogs

Some improvement may be noticeable in as little as two weeks, but it is important to ensure that your dog continues treatment until your dog’s doctor tells you it is safe to stop giving the medications. Discospondylitis is difficult to treat due to its location and as with other stubborn bacterial and fungal infections, early cessation of the prescriptions may result in the reoccurrence of the infection. Osteoarthritis often remains in the area of the infection, even after the infection is eliminated, and should be managed with appropriate pain relievers. 

Although the prognosis for dogs with bacterial infection is good with timely treatment, the prognosis is generally more guarded for dogs who contract a fungal infection instead.

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Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) Average Cost

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Average Cost

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Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Coco

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Himalayan Sheepdog

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10 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Hi, my baby coco is 10 years old. He has been diagnosed with severe spondylitis and possible arthritis. He has stopped using his hind legs and only uses his front ones if he goes out. Rest of the day he is either sitting or lying down. He has had 5 shots of steroid solu metrology but his condition hasn't improved. He also has a mild head enlargement for which he is on medication. I am considering getting him a wheel chair /cart so that he can move around. The physiotherapist has asked us to better his condition in terms of food and general well being before going in for Physiotherapy. His hemoglobin also came down to 7 and he is on eporise for the same. Coco is a Himalayan sheepdog with 35 kgs weight. He is on consequin, methylcobal, trineurosol, belamyl, vitalgin, biotine, safeheart, lanoxin, envas which the vet says are life long. Kindly advise. Is there anything I can do so that he atleast gets up and start walking. Lying down is no life! Thank you.

Nov. 19, 2017

Coco's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Generally in these cases antiinflammatory therapy and keeping a dog on the lean side of their weight range can help with the condition; some cases may require surgical intervention if there is spinal cord compression. You should discuss your options with your Veterinarian or visit an Orthopaedic Specialist; the severity of the condition will determine the options but if Coco isn’t walking there may not be many options left. Without examining him and assessing him it is difficult to give advice. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Nov. 19, 2017

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Sarge

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American bully

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9 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Hello, Our American bulldog had spinal surgery in July for a spinal fracture. Shortly after surgery he developed disco spondylitics, and was on antibiotics for 14 weeks. He just had a 2nd follow up x-ray last week and the surgeon said it looked clear and took him off antibiotics. My question is does this infection lie dormant? I'm just a little scared since we don't have that medicine keeping the infection at bay now.

Nov. 2, 2017

Sarge's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Long term antibiotic treatment is usually the treatment of choice and is curative in mild and moderate conditions; dormant infections are rare especially after a long course of antibiotics. It is important to keep a close eye on Sarge and if you do notice any symptoms you should visit your Veterinarian immediately. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Nov. 2, 2017

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Apollo

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German Shepherd Dog

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9 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Staggering On All 4 Legs,
Staggering On All 4 Legs

Looks like DM on back legs, staggery on front legs for a few months now only then 2 days ago fine am but pm staggering on back legs, had bells palsy years ago, also infection in jaw muscles about 5 years ago the infection was year before bells, weak on back leg when tired after bells, slightly of food but otherwise seems happy

Oct. 10, 2017

Apollo's Owner

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I would recommend you take Apollo into see your Veterinarian as German Shepherds are prone to some issues involving the spine which should be checked as a dog ages. Without examining Apollo and taking some x-rays I cannot say what the specific cause is; until you visit your Veterinarian it is important to give Apollo as much rest as possible. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Oct. 10, 2017

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Dixon

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Mixed breed

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3 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Shaking
Shaking, Pain, Lethargy

My dog has DLE lupus. Since he had his biopsy and diasgnosed he was been sick. So I went today for tests and now the vet is saying he is likely to have discospondylitis. I wanted to know how quickly this disease presents? He wasn't suffering with pain or his legs before the biopsy. Could something have happened during that procedure to cause this 3 weeks later?

Sept. 5, 2017

Dixon's Owner


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1 Recommendations

Discospondylitis is inflammation of the intervertebral disks usually caused by an infection, this condition is usually treated with long term antibiotics with improvement in condition usually being seen within a week. The time of onset of symptoms varies depending on the infectious agent present, the immune system of the patient and whether there are any other conditions present; whether or not this is connected to the biopsy three weeks ago, I couldn’t say. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.msdvetmanual.com/nervous-system/diseases-of-the-spinal-column-and-cord/inflammatory-and-infectious-diseases-of-the-spinal-column-and-cord

Sept. 5, 2017

Thank you. He has been on antibiotics for 3 weeks already and presenting symptoms of discospondylitis since being in the meds after the biopsy. He has 4 more days of antibiotics and then 8 days of pain meds left so will be monitoring him.

Sept. 6, 2017

Dixon's Owner

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BENNY

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American Pit Bull Terrier

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4 Years

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Fair severity

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1 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

BENNY JUST RECEIVED X-RAY AND ACCIDENTLY DISCOVERED DISCOSPONDYLYOSIS IN ONE PART OF BACK. WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT THIS? IS THERE A NATURAL SUPPLEMENT? E-MAIL IS JUANITAORR@PRODIGY.NET

Sept. 2, 2017

BENNY's Owner

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1 Recommendations

There is no scientifically proven natural supplement which will prevent, slow down or cure this condition; there have been more reports of success with some acupuncture but again I haven’t seen any information from a reputable source. Normally antiinflammatory treatment is recommended for pain when it presents. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Sept. 2, 2017

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Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) Average Cost

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Average Cost

$4,500

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