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Osteomyelitis in dogs and cats

Osteomyelitis is an acute (sudden) or chronic (slow onset, longer duration) bone infection that is commonly caused by bacteria. It is rarely associated with invasion by fungi and other microorganisms.

Radiograph of the femur of a dog with fungal osteomyelitis. Unlike dogs with primary bone tumors, this dog was coughing and depressed and the bone lesion - a widened, thin walled area- is in the middle of the bone rather than either end.

Additional information

Osteomyelitis is an acute or chronic inflammation of bone and the associated soft tissue elements of marrow, endosteum, periosteum and vascular channels that is caused usually by bacteria and rarely by fungi and other microorganisms.

  • Hematogenously disseminated microorganisms may localize in metaphyseal bone of young animals and vertebrae of adults and cause osteomyelitis when local tissue defense mechanisms have been compromised.
  • Direct inoculation of bone with pathogenic bacteria might not initiate osteomyelitis unless there is concurrent tissue injury, bone necrosis, sequestration, fracture instability, altered tissue defenses, foreign material, or surgical implants. Once bone infection is established, bacteria may persist by adhering to implants and sequestra.
  • Staphylococci and other bacteria produce slime that combined with host-derived proteins, cellular debris, and carbohydrate is called a biofilm. Biofilm enshrouds bacterial colonies, providing protection from antimicrobial drugs and host defenses.
  • Furthermore, biofilm induces some bacteria to transform to more virulent strains that are more resistant to antimicrobial drugs.
  • Osteomyelitis is exacerbated by fracture instability. Resorption of bone resulting from infection and instability causes widening of the fracture gap and implant loosening, which consequently contributes to persistence of infection.

    Systems Affected
  • Musculoskeletal


  • The incidence of osteomyelitis following open reduction and internal fixation of closed fractures is usually less than 1%.
  • Osteomyelitis caused by trauma and open fracture is more common, but the true incidence is unknown.
  • Hematogenous osteomyelitis in young dogs is rare.
  • Discospondylitis in adult dogs and cats is uncommon.
  • Fungal osteomyelitis is uncommon.
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