Canine Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is an infection the bone. Although many people do not realize it, bone is a living tissue that can become infected. Fortunately it can also repair itself, particularly with the aid of modern medicine.

Infection of the bone, called osteomyelitis, can be acute or chronic. Acute infections show up quickly, while those that are chronic spread slowly and symptoms can take months to develop. Bone infections can arise from infections in other areas of the body carried to the bone by the bloodstream. The more common causes of the bone infections in dogs are from outside of the body via bite wounds, other puncture wounds, compound fractures, and bone surgeries. Severe dental disease can lead to infection of the bones of the jaws. Osteomyelitis can also be acquired secondarily to brain injuries and brain infections.

The initial signs are pain, swelling, fever, and, if a limb is involved, lameness. These signs are usually accompanied by depression and loss of appetite. In time the infection usually breaks through the skin, and a blood-tinged or pus-filled discharge occurs.

Potomicrograph of Exserohilum fungus that can cause bone diseases in dogs
Exserohilum is a common mold found in soil and on plants, especially grasses, and thrives in warm and humid climates. It can cause osteomyelitis.
Source: CDC

Filamentous fungal infections of dogs are infrequently reported. Clinical manifestations often include some combination of bone or back pain, respiratory disease, neurologic abnormalities, renal disease, hepatic disease, draining wounds, and uveitis, with infections caused by Aspergilli being the most common. The majority of infections were reported in German shepherd dogs, a breed presumed to have a hereditary immunologic defect. Recently, fungal osteomyelitis in a young Rhodesian ridgeback dog caused by Penicillium canis has been reported.1

Diagnosis is made by the history, clinical signs, confirmed by blood tests and X-rays. The discharge may be cultured in order to identify the organisms that are causing the infection. A veterinarian may run a sensitivity test to determine which antibiotic will be effective in treatment. Although these tests are extra cost, bone infections can be difficult to clear up and a hit-or-miss use of antibiotics can make the condition worse. In most cases it will be necessary to drain the wound surgically and remove all dead and infected tissues from the bone. Vigorous and often long-term antibiotic treatment will be essential, both systematically (by injection or mouth) and locally (into the wound). The wound will either be left open or closed with a tube inserted for drainage. Although most bone infections clear up with adequate treatment, some do not respond and require extensive surgery and long-term treatment.


  1. Clinical, Morphological, and Molecular Characterization of Penicillium canis sp. nov., Isolated from a Dog with Osteomyelitis



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