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Osteomyelitis in dogs – causes, symptoms & treatment

Osteomyelitis in dogs is an infectious inflammation of the bone marrow. However, it is also often referred to as osteitis, since in many cases it is not a pure inflammation of the bone marrow, but other parts of the bone, such as the bone substance and periosteum, are also affected.

The possible causes of osteomyelitis in dogs

In many cases, osteomyelitis results from musculoskeletal surgery, open fractures, implant placement, or open soft tissue trauma, which may have been caused by a deep bite injury, for example. All causes have one thing in common: the pathogens – mostly bacteria – enter the body through the open wound and trigger the inflammation. In rare cases, viruses or fungi can also cause osteomyelitis in dogs.

These pathogens often cause osteomyelitis (osteitis):

  • Staphylococcus aureus (75-80 %)
  • β-hemolytic A streptococci
  • Other bacteria
  • rarely mushrooms
  • Rarely viruses

Acute osteomyelitis can often occur in puppies. In this case, the pathogens enter the bloodstream via an open wound and, via this, the growth plates of the long tubular bones, such as the femur or humerus, which have not yet been closed. From the growth plates, the inflammation eventually spreads to the bone marrow and can spread to the entire bone. As a result, the hard bone tissue may die and bone softening may occur.

The most common symptoms

  • Increased temperature or fever
  • typical signs of inflammation such as
  1. Redness (rubor)
  2. Swelling (tumor)
  3. Pain (dolor)
  4. Heating (calor)
  5. Restricted function (functio laesa)

How to diagnose osteomyelitis in dogs

Imaging procedures such as X-ray, MRI or ultrasound are necessary for a reliable diagnosis. X-rays show very clearly if and where it changes from healthy bone tissue to damaged spongy bone tissue. The spongy change indicates damage to the bone material. Furthermore, a blood count is usually taken, which shows an increased number of leukocytes in the case of inflammation.

Differential diagnosis

Differential diagnosis must exclude osteosarcomas. These are highly metastatic bone tumors.

The treatment of osteomyelitis in dogs

Prompt and comprehensive treatment of osteomyelitis is essential, as it can become chronic. If left untreated, it can lead to death. First, consistent, high-dose antibiotic administration for at least six weeks is essential. Surgical removal of the damaged bone material and surrounding tissue may also be necessary. Basically, in many cases, a complete cure is not possible. However, defect healing can be achieved, i.e. the tissue is “repaired”.

Physiotherapeutic treatment of osteomyelitis in dogs

Laser therapy can be used to support the fight against inflammation. In addition, cell regeneration is stimulated, thus promoting the formation of new bone material. Subsequently, measures such as passive movement of the joints make sense, but also active movement training to strengthen the muscles again and promote healthy movement patterns.

What you can do as a dog owner

Consistent rest of the affected run is essential for the inflammation to subside. Exposure too early can cause the inflammatory process to flare up again, resulting in chronicity of the inflammation. In the acute phase of inflammation, you can support your dog, for example, with pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory wraps. These include, for example, curd compresses, savior tip or comfrey compresses. (Attention: please do not apply the wraps to open wounds.) You can also do the active movement training at home after appropriate instruction by the physiotherapist to promote the recovery process.


All the love, your Tina

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