Management of bacterial osteomyelitis in dogs and cats

Understanding and treating bacterial osteomyelitis in cats and dogs

source: Chris May
In Practice vol 24 no 6, June 2002
starts p330, 6 pages long

Osteomyelitis is a term that is usually used to describe fungal or bacterial infections of bones, and means bone inflammation. Osteomyelitis is not usually life-threatening, but can lead to complications, especially in immature animals that have not developed their skeletons. The skeleton can also be affected by protozoan and viral infections, but these conditions are rare. Acute cases of osteomyelitis can be recognised by pain, heat and swelling, while chronic cases tend to have other characteristics such as bone death, and draining sinuses. Staphylococcus accounts for around 50% of the cases, and more than one type of bacteria may be involved.

The main causes include surgery, traffic accidents, and bite and gunshot wounds. Implanted foreign material, shock and other reduced host defences, bone necrosis and fracture instability are among contributory causes. Fractures should be repaired under aseptic conditions, and antibiotics should be given to prevent infection when implants are used. Affected animals may show lameness and loss of appetite. Radiography and bone biopsies can be used in diagnosis.

Treatment chronic osteomyelitis may have to involve surgery, with necrotic soft tissue and implants removed. Antibiotics many be enough for acute cases. Drainage to remove dead space can be carried out through active or passive systems. Closed, sterile, active systems are less likely to lead to secondary infections than open active or passive systems. Broad-spectrum antibiotics can be used to treat this condition. Osteomyelitis is often associated with poor blood supply, so antibiotics like tetracycline that only control, rather than eliminate infections, should be avoided. Acute cases generally have a better prognosis than chronic cases. Poor surgical techniques and asepsis are the most common cause, and the focus should be on seeking to prevent bacterial osteomyelitis.