What is discospondylitis in Dogs and What is the Cause?

Home » Veterinarians » Learning Center » Discospondylitis

discospondylitis refers to infection of the intervertebral disc and the adjacent vertebral endplates. “disco" refers to the intervertebral disc (or spacing cushion between bones of the spine), “spondylo" refers to the vertebrae, and “itis" means inflammation or infection.

discospondylitis occurs when bacteria or fungus lodges in the intervertebral disc and adjacent bone. When this happens, the infection causes pus (or an abscess) to form, causing neurological sign of pain, reluctance to move, crying out or difficulty walking. Many affected dogs exhibit systemic signs including weight loss, poor appetite, and generally feeling ‘sick.'

discospondylitis is most frequently caused by bacteria, including E. coli, staphylococcus, streptococcus, and brucella. Occasionally, discospondylitis may be caused by fungal organisms. Male dogs are affected more frequently than females and large breed dogs are over-represented. The infection is usually widespread in the body, meaning it is present in other organs such as the urinary system or heart valves.

Any intervertebral disc can be affected; however, the L7-S1 disc is most commonly affected.


discospondylitis in a dog. T13-L1 and L1-L2 are involved.
The caudal endplates of T13 and L1 and the cranial endplates of L1 and L2 are irregular.

How is discospondylitis in Dogs Diagnosed?

discospondylitis in dogs can have the exact same symptoms as other spinal conditions such as intervertebral disc disease, meningitis, tumors, and broken bones. For this reason, evaluation by a veterinarian or veterinary neurologist is needed.

X-rays (radiographs) are often able to show infection. The borders of the bones (vertebral endplates) are destroyed and irregular. The disc space may either appear widened or narrowed. The photo above shows a particularly extreme case of discospondylitis.

discospondylitis is NOT spondylosis deformans which refers to smooth bridging between the vertebral bodies.

Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are necessary in cases where discospondylitis is not apparent on plain X-rays or when weakness or wobbliness is present. Other tests that may be needed in cases of discospondylitis include blood work (complete blood count and chemistry panel), urine tests including a urine culture and sensitivity (to find out which bacteria is the cause and which medicine is best to treat the infection), blood tests for brucella, and potentially blood cultures or an ultrasound of the heart. Occasionally, surgery may be indicated to remove the infection and obtain samples.

How is discospondylitis Treated?

Treatment typically involves antibiotics, which are ideally based on results of culture and sensitivity. Antibiotics should be prescribed for six to eight weeks, as relapses are common if not treated long enough. Pain medications are prescribed since most dogs are quite painful. Occasionally surgery may be necessary.

Close monitoring and follow-up examinations are recommended. Blood tests can be used to monitor for early recurrence. Follow up MRI is useful as well.

Prognosis for discospondylitis

Prognosis depends on several things, including:

1) type of infection (i.e. fungal infections tend to be worse than bacterial infections)

2) how affected the patient is (paraplegic dogs that are unable to feel their back legs tend to have a worse prognosis than those that have less severe signs)

Why should I bring my dog with suspected discospondylitis to Southeast Veterinary Neurology?

Southeast Veterinary Neurology is South Florida’s trusted name in veterinary neurology. We are experts in neurological diseases of dogs and cats, including discospondylitis. We are the only team of board-certified neurologists in South Florida. Our team is available 7 days a week for your pet and we were the first neurologists in South Florida to use a high-field MRI. Our state-of-the-art hospitals are equipped with the latest technology, most advanced techniques and a compassionate team of humble experts.