What is Discospondylitis (Spondylitis)?

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Cost of Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) in Dogs

Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) can be an expensive treatment in dogs and can range from $1500.00 to $8500.00 depending on the cost of living and severity of your Dog's discospondylitis (spondylitis). On average, the national cost of treating discospondylitis (spondylitis) in dogs is $4500.00.

Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) in Dogs Treatment Advice

Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Bosch
Labrador Retriever
8 Years
Moderate condition
0 found this not helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

back pain

hello, my dog has diskspondylitis probably caused by brusella. Read an article that recomends that Dogs with DS should not be vaccinated under any circumstances. what does the vaccines do to this kind of illness ? last time after my dog had his vaccines he had a terrible back pain a week later.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
834 Recommendations

I am unaware of a contraindication of vaccinating a dog with discospondylitis; I have checked online and in reputable textbooks (Merck Veterinary Manual, Slatters Textbook of Small Animal Surgery and BSAVA Canine Medicine and Therapeutics) and I couldn’t find any reference to not vaccinating dogs with discospondylitis except for one article on a website which had no references to scientific textbooks, articles or journals. If you have concerns, I would recommend you discuss them with your Veterinarian at your next visit. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Any dogs that have a disease or illness should not be vaccinated. It's in ALL holistic veterinarian articles. You wont find that information in conventional vet books.

Hi, my staffordshire bull terrier has ben diagnosed with discospondylitis. He has had an operation as the infection was quite severe. The operation was 2 weeks ago and he is on a 6 week antibiotics treatment. He came home last week and he has only shown very slight improvements in terms of walking. He doesn't really use his back legs and drags them using his front paws. Occasionally he uses his right back leg. Is this normal? How long would it take to see real improvements?

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Alfie
Boston Terrier
6 Years
Moderate condition
0 found this not helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Pain
Pain in back pain

My Alfie is helping in pain when he gets up. He walks a little stiff once up but otherwise is active and not limping.
He is a rescue and is absolutely terrified of vet, so it is difficult to examine him.
Thursday we had him anesthetized and the vet checked his anal gland but appeared ok so she xrayed him and she can see. Spondylitis but thin k s he is too young and not showing correct symptoms . We weren't home with pain killers and antibiotics that run out tomorrow, he is still yelping when gets up and tries not to settle down, bless him.
What would you suggest for him ?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
834 Recommendations

There are many causes of back pain from spondylitis to trauma (among others) and severe abdominal pain may be confused with back pain in some cases. Without examining Alfie it is difficult to weigh in with a possible cause of action; you could try having a Specialist take a look at his x-rays to see if they see something, PetRays are great and have board certified Radiologists which look at the x-rays you provide. Otherwise, pain management would be the way forward until a definitive cause is found. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
http://petrays.com/

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Sabbath
Doberman
9.5 years
Serious condition
0 found this not helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Weakness

Hello my vet said my dog has Spondylitis but no course of antibiotics were prescribed just anti inflammatory and tramadol I do not think the tramadol do anything although the . Is it spondylosis then? And what is the difference? I have another appointment on Friday and want to be able to ask the right questions and get the right treatment. He woke one morning unable to move properly and was in a lot of pain with his tail right under him. He could not lie down for 48hr but now has good and bad days. His temperature was up on the first few days. And now is ok most of the time but does go up every now and then.

Thank you

Tre

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
834 Recommendations

There are two conditions, spondylitis (caused by infection) and spondylosis (caused by degeneration and inflammation of the vertebrae); the difference between the two is one is caused by infection and the other one isn’t. I would speak with your Veterinarian on Friday and ask them to define if it is spondylitis or spondylosis; with the course of treatment I would suspect is it spondylosis. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Otto
German Shorthaired Pointer
10
Serious condition
0 found this not helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

pain, weakness

My dog has been diagnosed with discospondylitis.. He had blastmycosis last year. Could this have caused the discospondylitis?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
834 Recommendations

In cases of discospondylitis, the most usual infections are Staphylococcus spp. Brucella canis, Streptococcus spp, Escherichia coli, Proteus spp, Corynebacterium diphtheroides, Nocardia spp, and Aspergillus spp; it is possible for the cause to be Blastomycosis. Itraconazole would be the normal course of treatment. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Discospondylitis (Spondylitis) in Dogs Treatment Experiences

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The statements expressed are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified by your local veterinarian.