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Ty’s New Diagnosis: Discospondylitis

Intervertebral Disc Disease Turns Out To Be Discospondylitis

A little more than a month ago Ty was diagnosed with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IDD), and we started on a course of treatment that included pain medication and a lot of rest, hoping his back would heal and he’d get back to his spunky self. The vet said it would take about a month for Ty to return to his usual activities, so when four weeks had passed and he was still hunched up and not wanting to walk, we scheduled an appointment with a specialist.

Ty - Dog at Veterinarian with ruptured disc

We went to see Dr. Wolf, a veterinary neurologist near Austin, and after examining Ty she concluded that he’d been mis-diagnosed last month – he actually has discospondylitis (DS). Unfortunately, even though the name of this condition begins with the word “disco,” it’s not nearly as much fun and it sounds.

If you follow our Facebook page, you may remember back in September that Ty was treated for a urinary tract infection. It was a tough one, and after the initial round of antibiotics, it came right back. Ty was prescribed a second, longer round of antibiotics to finally knock it out … or so we thought.

According to Dr. Wolf, what probably happened is that the bacteria that caused Ty’s UTI (Staphylococcus pseudintermedius) hitched a ride in his bloodstream to the disc in his spine and took up residence there. Apparently this is something that can happen when dogs have a UTI, abscess tooth, or infected wound. When the bacteria has a way into the blood, it can travel through the body and cause havoc somewhere else … like the discs, kidneys, or lungs.

Apparently, it’s not uncommon for the early symptoms of DS to be misinterpreted – the back pain, weight loss, and fever mimic other more common conditions, like IDD. What triggered Dr. Wolf’s suspicions was the high globulin levels in Ty’s most recent blood work. Higher than normal levels of globulins indicate that the body is fighting inflammation or an infection. That, combined with his recent history of persistent UTI, caused Dr. Wolf to take a new set of x-rays of Ty’s back, and she was able to identify the characteristic lesions of DS.

Image of Spine

In very simple terms, discospondylitis is an infection of the bone and disc space of the spine. In rare cases it’s caused by a  fungus, but usually it’s a bacteria that damages the bone and causes inflammation that pushes on the nerves. In addition, the bone damage can cause the spine to be unstable at the point of the infection, so we need to be careful that Ty doesn’t do anything that could further injure his spine until the infection is cleared up.

Left untreated, the bacteria would continue to eat way the bone, cause extreme pain, lead to weakness and incoordination in the limbs, and eventually paralysis.

Treatment

Treatment involves the administration of antibiotics, pain medication, and crate rest. We ran cultures on Ty’s blood and urine to try to verify that we’re dealing with the same bacterial culprit that caused his UTI in September. Unfortunately, the cultures were inconclusive (which happens about 50% of the time with this condition), but based on Dr. Wolf’s suspicions, we wanted to get him started right away on his new course of treatment. We’ve added the same antibiotic we had success with before to his pain medication in hopes of killing the infection, and he’s under strict doctor’s orders to take it easy!

He’ll be on the antibiotic for at least a of couple months, and possibly for the rest of his life, to keep the bacteria at bay. In the meantime, long walks, going up or down stairs, and jumping are completely out of the question. Honestly, I think the little bugger is getting pretty used to being pampered … here he is in his new wagon:

Dog in collapsable wagon

The best news is that we’re already seeing evidence that Ty’s feeling better. He’s walking with his tail up over his back again – something we hadn’t seen in a month! And he’s venturing out on slightly longer walks every day, which Dr. Wolf says is a good sign that the antibiotic is working.

Long term, it’s possible that Ty could experience reoccurring bouts of DS. Because there isn’t a lot of blood flow in the discs, it’s hard to get enough of the antibiotic in there to completely wipe out the bacteria. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but I won’t be surprised if Ty is on a low dose of antibiotics for the rest of his life. Also, we’ll need to watch for signs that the infection has left a swath of osteoarthritis in it’s wake. If we notice that Ty’s back continues to be painful, we’ll need to treat him for that as well.

We all want to thank you for your concern and support while we’ve been dealing with Ty’s shifting diagnoses. Your thoughtful notes have meant a lot and kept all of our spirits up as we focus on getting Ty back in tip-top shape.

Disclosure: I am not a veterinarian. I’m a pet lover and parent, bumbling along as I try to understand how to best care for my dog. Discospondylitis is a condition I didn’t even know existed until last week, and I’m sharing what I’ve learned in hopes that it might help someone who’s dealing with the same thing. If you pet has been diagnosed with DS, please seek veterinary care immediately.

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  • Janet says:

    I’m going thru this with my 2 yrs old dog. MRI confirmed diskospondylitis at the last two vertebrae near his tail bone. He started on 2 antibiotics, how soon will I see him better? He’s still crying in pain getting up. He lays there and pee and sleep all day. Which antibiotics was Ty on so I can ask my vet about it. Thanks

    • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

      Hi Janet. I’m so sorry to hear that your dog is suffering. The bacteria that cause the infection can be different, so be sure that your vet does a culture to determine which antibiotic will kill whichever bacteria is affecting your dog. Also, all dogs react differently to the medication, and how quickly you start to see improvements will depend on how much the infection progressed when treatment was started. If your pup is still suffering, talk to your vet about changing his pain medication or increasing the dosage. That should help him feel better until the antibiotics kick in. Sending our love and hoping for the best!

      • Janet says:

        His urine culture came back negative. He’s no longer crying in pain but walking sort of lame on the right leg. His pain med of oxycodone was of no use. The cbd oil helped a lot. Vet said antibiotics for 2 mos but from what I read it should be longer.

  • Stacey Johnson says:

    My little girl was just diagnosed with this disease and it is breaking my heart to see her in so much pain. We hope to have a good course of action to follow, although it’s early so I know somethings may change. A week ago my 4 month old puppy was running and smiling and the happiest girl and now she can barely stay awake.

    I’m wondering how long it took once you started meds before your babies began to show a reduction in pain? Also, was there a pin medicine that worked best during the most acute stage of this disease?

    Any help is appreciated. I’ve spent thousands and I’m really so terrified I will Run out of funds before they get things right.

    • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

      Hi Stacey. I’m so sorry to hear that you and your girl are going through this, but I’m glad to know that you’re on a good course now. Ty started showing signs of less pain as soon as we started him on the pain meds and antibiotics. He was sleeping a lot, but seemed to be less uncomfortable. If your dog is still in a lot of pain, I’d call your vet. It’s possible they can change the dosage or try a different medication. Each dog reacts differently to pain meds, so there might be one that will work better for your girl.

      Wishing your pup all the best for a speedy and full recovery!

    • Janet says:

      About day 4 he cried less and by day 6 no cry. I also gave cbd oil and this seems to help more.

      • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

        I’m so glad to hear he’s feeling better, Janet. And I agree, I’d continue the antibiotics longer. I think Ty took them for 6 months. The vet explained that very little blood goes into the vertebra, so it takes a long time to ensure enough medication gets in there to wipe out the bacteria. I wish you the best of luck!

  • Talia says:

    Hi, my girl has this virus. She has extreme weakness in her rear legs and knuckles her back paws. How severe was your dogs hind leg weekness/paralysis? And how long did it take for the antibiotics to work until he was in no more pain? My worry is once she’s feeling completely better she she still won’t be able to walk, the doctors are unsure if she’ll ever go back to her full function.

    • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

      Hi Talia. I’m so sorry to hear that your girl is suffering with this. When Ty was diagnosed, he could still walk, but he didn’t really want to. His hind legs were weak and he couldn’t do stairs at all. Within a week it was evident that the pain medication and antibiotics were working. I hope that helps you and that your pup is back on her feet soon.

  • bo says:

    thanks for sharing. we are going through this painful disease. I was wondering with the course of antibiotics when the pain resolved for you boy. we go through days when we think she is getting better but then all of a sudden it seems to relapse and she is screaming in pain getting up. is this all normal and part of the healing process? we are hoping for the best for our girl

    • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

      I’m so sorry that you’re going through this, Bo. What I’ve learned is that each dog is different – they all respond to the medications differently. Ty mostly slept through the worst days. I would recommend talking to your vet about the pain your dog is still having. There may be a different pain medication that would be more effective. Or they may be able to add a second pain medication to help until the antibiotics have had time to work and the bone starts to rebuild.

      Sending our thoughts out to you and hoping your girl is feeling better soon!

  • Jackie Freitas says:

    Thank you for sharing

  • Anya says:

    My 5 year old lab has just been diagnosed with discospondylitis and reading your post this is exactly the same thing that happened to us. We just thought it was an injury and had him on pain killers and thought everything was getting better but then all of a sudden it got worse. We just started him on the antibiotics and have done a urine test to see if that was the primary cause. I really hope it is and we can just get him well. Reading about Bruscella now and wondering if we have to test him for that. Thanks for your post. It gives me hope when I read about Ty doing okay.

    • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

      Hi Anya. I’m so sorry you’re going through this – it’s hard both on the dog and on his people. Hopefully you’ll start to see improvement quickly now that he’s on antibiotics. Ty recovered completely from his case and he’s still going at 14 – so there is hope! We’ll keep you in our thoughts.

      • Anya Frammolino says:

        Dear Amy.
        Thank you….and Oscar thanks you too….xxx

        • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

          I’m just glad we can provide some additional information, and hopefully some hope, Anya. Hugs to you and Oscar!

          • Anya says:

            Amy. So sorry to bother you about it but I have a couple of questions. Did you allow Ty to move around at all during treatment – I mean like roaming the house? Or were the strict orders from the doctor for him to stay confined? Also, was he okay with the antibiotics and painkillers or did he lose his appetite at all? Just got an instruction letter from the animal hospital saying he should not be allowed to roam the house. That’s mad!!!!

          • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

            No bother at all, Anya!

            When Ty was being treated, he didn’t want to move around. He was hurting pretty badly – plus he’s also a couch potato, so for him staying still is his preferred level of activity. We were told that, depending on how severely the infection had damaged his vertebrae, moving could cause the vertebrae to break. So, my advice is to keep your pup as still as possible.

            Each dog’s reaction to the drugs is probably a little different. I would say that Ty probably had less appetite while on the medication, but I don’t know if that’s because of the medication or if he just wasn’t feeling well. I hope that helps you! Sending our best.

          • Jackie Freitas says:

            I didn’t realize their spine could break thank you for mentioning because Dexter cries to come on sofa then if we are not paying attention he’ll jump down, he did it couple times but then I stop allowing him up, I feel so bad I was not aware

          • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

            Try not to beat yourself up, Jackie. There’s so much to learn about this disease, and we can only do the best we can. Until Dexter is feeling better, you may need to make a comfortable spot for yourself on the floor with him. I hope he’s back to his old self soon.

  • Len/deb says:

    Aloha, unfortunately our 7month old pup has discospondylitis! He’s going on 4weeks now. Luckily, it was diagnosed and being treated with IV antibiotics painkillers and oral meds. We feel so helpless when he “screams bloody murder” when he gets up and tries to walk. Thank God its not Brusella. We know that it’s a long journey to recovery, but he’s our fur baby! His name is Ke Kona, a pitbull.

    • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

      Oh Len and Deb, I’m so sorry your pup is hurting. Hopefully the medication will kick in quickly and Ke Kona will be feeling better soon. On the hopeful side, Ty turned 14 last month – 3 1/2 years since he was diagnosed with DS, and he’s still getting around!
      I know how hard it is to see your dog in pain. Hugs to you all – I’ll be hoping for the best.

  • Hello Annie. I’m so sorry to hear that your puppy is suffering. My recommendation is to call your vet immediately. It’s possible that your puppy could be put on a different pain medication, or perhaps have another added, until the antibiotics have time to begin working. This is a difficult disease, but Ty made a complete recovery and is now almost 14 years old. I really hope the same can be true for your pup. Good luck!

  • Annie Fourie says:

    Good day we think our 4 month old puppy has the same illness, we cannot confirm it as the tests in South Africa is very expensive. The vet put him on antibiotics and pain meds, but the pain meds have not been working well as he is in a lot of pain. I have been spending my nights with him in our living room to prevent him from waking up the rest of the household as he is screaming in pain although he gets his pain medication. My husband is now thinking of euthanising him because we cannot afford the treatment and also to relieve him of his pain. I don’t want to go that route, can someone maybe give me some advice please.

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