Veterinary advice should be sought before applying any treatment or vaccine.



Discospondylitis is an inflammatory disorder involving the intervertebral disk (as discitis) and adjacent vertebral bodies (as osteomyelitis or spondylitis). The condition is considered to be rare in horses and cattle; it is frequently reported in dogs and pigs. The clinical and pathological features seen in horses with discospondylitis are similar to vertebral body osteomyelitis; however vertebral body osteomyelitis is usually seen in younger horses, with juvenile sepsis and immunosuppressed foals with multiple site infections at the level of vertebral bodies. Discospondylitis most frequently affects adult horses. It most commonly involves progressive degenerative changes at the level of the intervertebral disc and adjacent end plates.

Discospondylitis is caused by:
  • The haematogenous spread of bacteria from primary infections of the umbilicus, lungs, urinary bladder or other organs.
  • A secondary complication to traumatic event involving the back.
  • Iatrogenic infections caused by epidural or paravertebral anaesthesia.
  • Aspirated or swallowed foreign bodies
Horses with advanced discospondylitis are often observed in a dog-sitting position for extended periods of time and repeatedly trying to stand up. There may or may not be signs of neurological damage, as it depends on the location of the infection within the vertebral column and the extent of compression on the spinal cord. In horses, discospondylitis is most often involving the cervical region; however it can also affect the coccygeal, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral regions.


Shortened stride
Neck pain
Stiff gait
Weight loss
Inability to lower head to graze
Pain on palpation
Difficulty standing up after lying down
Tucking all 4 limbs beneath abdomen
Dog-sitting position
Prolonged periods of lying down
Slight ataxia
Muscle atrophy


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Bacterial blood culture
  • Radiography
  • Ultrasonography
  • Computed tomography
  • Myelography
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Scintigraphy



Broad-spectrum bactericidal antibiotics: Administered for at least 6 weeks while on stall rest : E Muggli et al., 2011



If treated during the early stages of the disease it has a fairly good prognosis, however during the advanced stages of the disease it is consisdered a poor prognosis.

Scientific Research

General Overviews

Age Range

Discospondylitis most frequently affects adult horses.

Risk Factors

  • History of previous traumatic event involving the back