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Osteomyelitis in Dogs

What is Osteomyelitis in Dogs?

Osteomyelitis in dogs refers to the inflammation of bone and/or bone marrow caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. It typically occurs when an infection infiltrates the bloodstream and spreads to the bone or when it directly enters the bone due to trauma like fractures or deep wounds. Limbs and the jaw are commonly affected by osteomyelitis. It’s a severe condition that can lead to bone destruction, necessitating immediate treatment. However, managing osteomyelitis can be challenging, often requiring long-term care depending on its severity and underlying cause.


Osteomyelitis in dogs can manifest in two forms: acute, which occurs suddenly, and chronic, developing gradually over months. The infection can stem from either bacteria or fungi:

Bacterial osteomyelitis is the more prevalent form, commonly caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus spp. and Streptococcus spp., which are typically present on the skin of healthy dogs. Other bacterial strains like E. coli, Pseudomonas, and Pasteurella, considered environmental contaminants, can also lead to infection.

Fungal osteomyelitis is rare and varies depending on the dog’s geographical location. For instance, dogs in areas like the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River valleys may encounter Histoplasma capsulatum from soil containing bat or bird droppings. Additionally, global exposure to fungal organisms like Aspergillus spp. is possible.


The causes of osteomyelitis in dogs encompass the following factors:

  • Systemic infection: Infections originating elsewhere in the body can migrate to the bone through the bloodstream. For instance, a hunting dog inhaling fungal spores from soil into its lungs could lead to this condition. Dogs with compromised immune systems face higher susceptibility.
  • Traumatic injury: Fractures exposing the bone can result in contamination by bacteria or fungi typically present on the skin or in the nearby environment.
  • Bites or punctures: Deep wounds caused by foreign objects, such as gunshot injuries, can lead to osteomyelitis.
  • Post-surgical complications: Osteomyelitis may occur after orthopedic surgery involving metal implants like bone plates, screws, and rings, if underlying issues arise.
  • Dental ailments: Oral tumors invading the jaw can trigger infection, along with severe periodontal disease (dental decay).

It’s noteworthy that viruses have not been identified as a cause of osteomyelitis in dogs.


Symptoms of osteomyelitis in dogs arise from infection and inflammation within the bone, leading to specific signs in the affected area or throughout the body:

  • Lameness
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Swelling in the affected region
  • Visible wounds that may show signs of infection
  • Fever
  • Decreased energy levels
  • Depression and weakness
  • Reduced appetite

Symptoms may vary depending on the location of the infection. For instance, a dog with a jaw bone infection may also exhibit pain while eating and have halitosis (foul-smelling breath).


When diagnosing osteomyelitis in dogs, veterinarians follow a systematic approach:

  • During the initial appointment, your veterinarian gathers a detailed medical history of your dog, including recent travel and the timeline of symptom onset.
  • Based on the medical history, the veterinarian determines whether the infection is acute or chronic and its probable bacterial or fungal origin.
  • A comprehensive physical examination is conducted to assess the dog’s condition.
  • Diagnostic testing is recommended to determine the extent and severity of the infection. This includes a CBC (complete blood count), serum chemistry profile, and urinalysis, which can indicate changes associated with an active immune response, such as elevated white blood cell count.
  • Imaging studies like X-rays provide detailed insights into any bony changes that may have occurred.
  • Fungal and bacterial cultures help identify the causative organism, guiding treatment.
  • In severe cases, specialized tests such as ultrasound imaging and surgical bone biopsy may be advised.
  • Referral to a veterinary specialist might be suggested for managing complex infections effectively.


The treatment of osteomyelitis in dogs is determined by the veterinarian based on the dog’s medical history, initial physical examination, and subsequent tests.

Depending on the type and severity of the condition, the following treatments may be recommended:

  • Hospitalization: Treatment and supportive care often necessitate hospitalization. Any wounds will be addressed, and fractured limbs may be stabilized.
  • Medications: Antibiotic or antifungal medications are prescribed based on the type of underlying infection and results from cultures. Medication can be administered intravenously, orally, through the skin, or via a combination of methods. Long-term medication courses typically span four to six weeks.
  • Surgery: More severe cases may require surgical intervention. For instance, extensive wounds with necrotic tissue may need excision. Failed surgical implants must be removed, and complex fractures necessitate stabilization and repair under general anesthesia.

Recovery and Management

Recovery and management of osteomyelitis in dogs require appropriate therapies and veterinary support, leading to successful treatment and full recovery. However, the prognosis depends on factors like the cause, duration, and severity of the infection, as well as the extent of any wounds, trauma, or existing injuries.

Following your veterinarian’s instructions and medication regimen diligently is crucial. Completing the full course of prescribed antibiotics or antifungal medication is essential. Expect regular follow-up appointments for monitoring, which may include additional diagnostics like lab work and imaging to assess healing progress.

At home, promoting successful treatment outcomes may involve lifestyle adjustments recommended by your veterinarian. These adjustments could include prolonged cage rest, activity restrictions, basic wound care management, and dietary or supplemental therapies.


Preventing osteomyelitis in dogs primarily involves prompt attention to any wounds, trauma, or injuries, as well as vigilance for signs of systemic illness such as fever, lethargy, weakness, or decreased appetite. Immediate veterinary care should be sought in such cases.

For dogs that have undergone orthopedic procedures involving metal implants, it’s crucial to keep the veterinarian informed of any changes in health status. Timely diagnosis and treatment of osteomyelitis are vital for ensuring a successful outcome.

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