Clinical features, treatment and outcome of discospondylitis in cats

Sergio A Gomes 1Laurent S Garosi 2Sebastien Behr 3Cristina Toni 3Joana Tabanez 4Clare Rusbridge 4 5Mike Targett 6Mark Lowrie 1

2022 Apr;24(4):311-321

Objectives: There is a paucity of information on feline discospondylitis. This study aimed to describe the signalment, clinical and laboratory findings, aetiological agents, treatment and outcome in cats affected by discospondylitis.

Methods: This was a retrospective review of the medical records of cats diagnosed with discospondylitis at four referral institutions.

Results: A total of 17 cats were identified. Most were domestic shorthair cats (76.5%) and male (58.8%), with a median age of 9 years (range 0.9-14) and a median duration of clinical signs of 3 weeks (range 0.3-16). All cats presented with spinal hyperaesthesia; 3/17 had pyrexia. Neurological dysfunction was found in 64.7% of cats, which was indicative of a T3-L3 or L4-S2 spinal segment, associated nerve root or associated nerve neurolocalisation. Haematology, serum biochemistry and urinalysis revealed occasional inconsistent non-specific changes. All cats underwent urine culture; 9/17 cats also had a distinct tissue cultured. Positive bacterial cultures were obtained in two cats (11.8%) for Staphylococcus species (urine, blood and intradiscal fine-needle aspirate) and Escherichia coli (urine); both presented with multifocal discospondylitis. Treatment was non-surgical in all cats, with sustained antibiotic therapy for a median of 3 months (range 1-9). Analgesia provided included non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, alone or in combination with gabapentin. Restricted exercise was advised for a minimum of 4 weeks. Outcome information available in 12 cats was excellent in terms of pain control and neurological function in 10 cats (83.3%) at the time of stopping antibiotics. Recurrence occurred in one case, which had received a single antibiotic for 6 weeks, and relapsed 4 months after presentation. One other case failed to improve and was euthanased during the course of hospitalisation.

Conclusions and relevance: Feline discospondylitis is uncommon and no obvious signalment predisposition was found in this study. Spinal hyperaesthesia was universally present, with neurological dysfunction also highly prevalent. Bacterial culture was unrewarding in most cases. Amoxicillin-clavulanic acid or cephalosporins are reasonable choices for first-line antibiotics. Prognosis was favourable, with no long-term evidence of recurrence in cats on sustained antibiotic therapy, for a mean duration of 3 months.

Keywords: Bacteria; abscess; discitis; infection; myelopathy; pyogenic; spinal.