Discospondylitis is an infection of a disc space and as such it initially causes pain. It may then result in neurological deficits if allowed to progress. The infection is caused most commonly by bacteria. These originate most often from the urinary tract and then travel to the disc space via the bloodstream. On rare occasions discospondylitis is caused by a fungal infection. This is seen most often in German shepherd dogs where the disc spaces are infected as part of a disease process that affects multiple organs and is usually fatal. Diagnosis of discospondylitis is usually made using X-rays, which show destruction of the distinct plate of bone that normally lies on each side of the intervertebral disc; sometimes more than one disc is involved. Ideally the exact bacterium is cultured from the disc, blood or urinein order to determine what antibiotics it is sensitive to. Treatment is initially with long-term antibiotics. Dogs that fail to respond or those that become extremely painful often require surgical intervention.
Figure 15: A: X-ray of a normal lumbosacral disc to show the plate of bone on either side of the disc space (arrowheads). This plate is eaten away and eventually destroyed if the disc gets infected. B: X-ray of a dog with a bacterial discospondylitis of the disc space at the lumbosacral junction. There has been marked destruction of bone (black arrows) so that the normal plate of bone adjacent to the disc has been destroyed (white arrow).
The prognosis is good for most dogs with discospondylitis unless the cause is a fungal infection, when neurological deficits are marked or when multiple discs are affected. The main complications are either poor response to treatment, especially when the exact organism has not been cultured, or a late recurrence of clinical signs.
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