Dog: Diskospondylitis

General information

Other common/scientific names: spondylitis

A dog’s spine is composed of a long series of bones called vertebrae. These bones maintain the structure of the body and protect the spinal cord which is housed within the vertebrae. The vertebrae are connected through a series of ligaments. Between each vertebrae are structures called disks which act as shock absorbers. The vertebrae are divided into sections based on their location, i.e. cervical (neck), thoracic (chest), lumbar (lower back) and sacrum (tailbone).

Diskospondylitis is the inflammation of the vertebral disks and their adjacent vertebrae due to an infection. Because of the proximity of the spinal cord, the inflammation can affect the spinal cord and the nerves exiting the spinal cord resulting in neurologic symptoms. Any vertebral disk may be affected, although the thoracic and lumbar are most common. Diskospondylitis is more prevalent in large and giant breed, male dogs.


Bacterial and fungal infections are the most common causes of diskospondylitis. Infections most commonly reach the disks through the bloodstream. Less likely routes of infection include foreign bodies, abscesses or fractures. The originating infection may involve the heart, urinary tract or prostate. Previous trauma to the spine and complications after spinal surgery can result in diskospondylitis. The most common infections include brucellosis, Staphylococcus spp, Streptococcus spp, E. coli, blastomycosis and histoplasmosis.

Cardinal symptom

Back pain


Diskospondylitis can cause mild to severe back pain, fever, reluctance to walk, lethargy and poor appetite. Dogs more severely afflicted may show neurologic signs including incoordination, weakness in limbs and paralysis.


A complete physical examination is necessary for any dog showing signs of diskospondylitis. Diagnosis is usually confirmed by radiographs. Routine laboratory tests including a complete blood count (CBC), serum biochemistry panel and urinalysis will be needed to determine the primary cause. Blood and urine culture and sensitivity may be needed to identify the bacteria. For dogs showing nerve damage, a myelogram, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to assess spinal cord inflammation and compression.


The initial treatment of diskospondylitis consists of long term antibiotics, cage rest and pain medication. Mild cases can be treated with oral medications as outpatients. More severe cases may need hospitalization, intravenous antibiotics and pain medication. If the disc and/or spinal cord are damaged, surgery may be needed to remove damaged discs and bone and relieve spinal cord compression.


Mild cases which are diagnosed early usually respond well to medical treatment. However, severe infections, left undiagnosed or fungal infections tend to have a poorer prognosis. Damage to the spinal cord can result in permanent, disabling side effects.


Administer all medications as prescribed by your veterinarian. Follow up examinations are critical especially if your dog does not respond to treatment.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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