Dog: Bone Infections

General information

Other common/scientific names: osteomyelitis, osteitis

Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone and bone marrow. While bone is normally resistant to infection, infected bone is more prone to devitalization and necrosis (cellular death).


Most bone infections are due to bacteria. Staphylococcus spp are responsible for 50-60% of bone infections in dogs. However, other bacteria, fungal and viral agents can cause a bone infection.


Bone infections are usually a result of trauma such as bite wounds, puncture wounds, open fractures and bone surgeries. Severe periodontal disease can lead to an infection of the bones of the jaws. With certain injuries, a bone sequestrum can form which is a dead piece of bone that has become separated from the main bone. This dead bone can act as a source of infection. Bone infections can develop from other areas of the body and be carried to the bone via the bloodstream. Newborn puppies can be susceptible to infections through their umbilical cord.

Cardinal symptom

  • Fever
  • Swelling


Clinical signs of bone infection include fever, swelling, redness, reluctance to use limb and painful to touch. Loss of appetite can occur. The skin may open and drain a blood-tinged or pus colored discharge.


Diagnosis of a bone infection is made by history, clinical signs and physical examination. Radiographs of the affected area may show reactive bone, thinning bone, a sequestrum and a draining tract. Blood tests including a complete blood count (CBC) can indicate infection. A culture and sensitivity on any drainage or exposed bone will help identify the specific bacteria and pinpoint the proper antibiotics.


In most cases, the tissue surrounding the infected bone and the devitalized bone will need to be surgically debrided which means to cut away any dead or dying tissue. This is performed under general anesthesia. The area is flushed with an antibacterial rinse and the wound may be sutured closed or left open to heal. Vigorous and long-term antibiotics are needed.


The prognosis of a bone infection depends on the location of the infection and the severity. Bone infections can be serious, difficult to treat and costly. However, with prompt diagnosis and treatment, an infected bone can heal.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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