Discospondylitis in Dogs

Estimated Reading Time 4 minutes
Discospondylitis in Dogs

Infections are one of the most common conditions among humans and their pets. Some of them can be resolved even without treatment, depending on the defenses of each organism. In contrast, others require antibiotics and additional care as they can become complicated and spread to other parts of the body. An example of this is discospondylitis in dogs, an infection that affects the vertebrae and intervertebral discs of the spine. Keep reading to learn more about its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

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What is discospondylitis in dogs?

Discospondylitis in dogs is an inflammatory disease that affects the intervertebral disc, the vertebral plates, and the adjacent vertebral bones. It is usually caused by a disseminated bacterial infection, such as brucellosis, although cases due to fungal infections have been documented.

It can occur in a specific place within the spine and in several areas simultaneously. However, the discs in the lower back are usually the most affected.

So far, several risk factors for discospondylitis in dogs have been noted. For example, it is more common in large breeds such as Great Danes, German Shepherds, Boxers, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and English Bulldogs.

But health conditions also play a role. Dogs suffering from chronic infections, such as chronic skin disease, or receiving medications that cause immunosuppression (such as steroids and chemotherapy) are more vulnerable to developing it.

Causes of Discospondylitis in Dogs

As we already indicated, discospondylitis in dogs arises due to a primary infection that spreads to other parts of the body. The causative pathogen is usually a bacteria, although fungi can also cause it. This can occur through three processes that we will describe below:

1. Spread Through the Blood

The term hematogenous spread refers to the transmission of infection through blood. It usually involves bacteria or fungi entering the bloodstream, flowing along with the blood until they reach the intervertebral disc space. Once there, they can be deposited and cause the infection that gives rise to the symptoms of discospondylitis in dogs.

External pathogens can enter the bloodstream through a wound or injury, making it one of the most common pathways that lead to the condition.

2. Direct Contamination

Infections in dogs that lead to this condition do not necessarily have to start in another part of their body; the process can also begin when bacteria or fungi settle directly on the intervertebral disc.

As in the previous route, a wound can be the ideal opening for the passage of pathogens. In this case, it could be a deep bite or puncture wound located near the area of the spine. But it is important to note that wounds resulting from surgical procedures can also lead to discospondylitis in dogs.

3. Migration of a Foreign Body

Interestingly, the migration of foreign material within the body can also lead to infections and, consequently, discospondylitis in dogs. Foxtails and other grass awns are common foreign bodies that can be inhaled by sniffing, ingested, or migrate after penetrating the skin. This material could carry bacteria or fungi that can also migrate toward the spinal cord.

Symptoms of Discospondylitis in Dogs

As expected, the symptoms of discospondylitis in dogs usually manifest at the level of the lumbosacral region. They typically start subtly and gradually, causing substantial pain in the infected area.

Based on this, the animal's body can begin to appear rigid. This, in turn, leads to a change in behavior with resistance to jumping and other movements. Your pet may also be sore when turned in a certain way or when touched in a specific region of the back.

As the infection progresses, the canine may experience muscle weakness in the extremities. Loss of appetite is also common, accompanied by weight loss and lethargy. And in very severe cases, this condition can lead to paralysis. This is the reason it is important to treat the infection early.

Diagnosing and Treating Discospondylitis in Dogs

Commonly, infections in dogs are treated with antibiotics, and this one is no exception. Your veterinarian will choose an appropriate antibiotic or antifungal depending on the pathogen involved, information revealed by cultures and blood counts that must be performed beforehand.

However, cases of discospondylitis in dogs warrant prolonged administration of these drugs, generally for 2 to 4 months, to ensure full recovery of the animal. Otherwise, the infection can recur and worsen the prognosis.

During this period, veterinarians and caretakers should monitor treatment progress through imaging tests, such as x-rays. The first check-up x-rays are usually done 6 to 8 weeks after starting antibiotics.

It is also typical not to see substantial positive changes since bones are slow to heal; however, the correct administration of the treatment and due care should improve the clinical signs. In some cases, treatment can be extended from 6 to 12 months to ensure a full recovery.

Also, if the patient is not improving with medication alone, surgery may be recommended. The goal of this would be to explore and remove any foreign bodies that may have migrated into the dog's spine and caused the infection. At this time, samples can also be taken for cultures and, in this way, identify the pathogen in question and administer a more specific antibiotic.

Pain relievers will also be administered during the process to help the pet with pain. Your selection and dosage will depend on the animal's pain level and overall health.

Read more:

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Dogs

Fibrocartilaginous Embolism in Dogs

Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

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Published: 5/17/2022
Dr. Sheena Haney, Veterinarian

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