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Diskospondylitis in Dogs

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Diskospondylitis is the infection of an intervertebral disk and the vertebrae sitting on either side of it. “Diskospondylitis” combines three meanings: “disko,” which refers to the intervertebral disks/cartilage cushioning the bones of the spine; “spondylo,” or vertebrae; and “itis,” meaning infection or inflammation. Large-breed male dogs are affected more than any other breed.

Infection and swelling of the spine can significantly alter your pet's quality of life. Contact us to see how we can help. 

What are the Symptoms?

Neurological signs that dogs may show include pain, stiffness, reluctance to move, and difficulty walking.

Additional symptoms include:

  • Back pain
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Incoordination
  • Paralysis (in severe cases)

These symptoms are similar to those seen in dogs with IVDD, meningitis, broken bones, and tumors. Therefore, your veterinary neurologist needs to thoroughly examine your pet to determine the exact cause of their symptoms.

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How Do Dogs Get Infected?

Infection takes place when bacteria or fungus lodges in the intervertebral disk and its adjacent vertebrae, causing an abscess to form. Dogs can become infected in several different ways:

  • When bacteria or fungus enters the bloodstream
  • Through direct contamination (bite or puncture wound over the spinal column)
  • A migrating foreign body (like a grass awn) that entered the body via inhalation, ingestion, or a penetrating wound

Diagnosing Diskospondylitis

We can more accurately diagnose diskospondylitis with the following tools:

  • X-rays may help us see infection of the disk and bones, which is shown as a wider or narrower-than-normal disk space between the affected vertebrae, and irregularity of the edges of the bones (end plates).
  • We may also recommend CT and MRI if diskospondylitis is not apparent in X-ray images.
  • Blood and urine testing is also helpful for finding out what bacteria are responsible for your pet’s infection. In some cases we might also recommend surgery to obtain tissue samples.

Available Forms of Treatment

Based on results obtained from your pet’s culture and sensitivity test, we will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection for 8 weeks or longer. If your pet stops taking their antibiotics too soon, the infection could return.

Additionally, we provide pain relief medication to keep your pet comfortable and aid in their recovery.

On some occasions, we might recommend surgery to remove the infection.

Follow-Ups Can Prevent a Relapse

If your pet is being treated for diskospondylitis, they need close monitoring and regular follow-up exams, blood work, and possibly MRIs. We need to ensure that your pet is responding well to medication and showing no signs of an early recurrence.

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