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A dog's spine is made up of numerous small bones called vertebrae. These extend from the base of the skull all the way to the end of the tail.

The vertebrae are interconnected by flexible discs of cartilage - the intervertebral discs. Above the discs and running through the bony vertebrae is the spinal cord, which is made up of a mass of nerve fibres that run back and forth between the brain and the rest of the body.

Spondylitis is an inflammatory, infectious condition, affecting the vertebrae and the intervertebral discs. In most cases there is an infection in the cartilage disc which joins the individual vertebrae.

The resulting swelling, inflammation and bone deformities seen in spondylitis put pressure or compression on the spinal cord which runs through the vertebrae.

It is a very painful condition, which leads to lameness and often inappetence, a high temperature and general malaise.

The disease should not be confused with 'spondylosis,' which is a non-infectious fusion or degeneration of the vertebrae.

What is the treatment?

Treatment is based on finding the causative agent - fungal or bacterial. Because bone infections are difficult to treat, therapy lasts at least six weeks and may continue for six months or more.

Taking x-rays at regular intervals during treatment helps monitor the progress. The lesions seen early in the disease should resolve with treatment.

Clinical improvement (lessening of symptoms) usually occurs within two weeks of starting treatment.

Pain medication may be needed early in treatment. Exercise restriction may help decrease the pain.

Most cases of spondylitis respond very well to treatment, although many leave some permanent damage to the affected vertebrae.