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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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  • Whitney Garrett says:

    Thank you Amy for posting this. My 8 month old Bernese Mountain Dog puppy, Indy, was diagnosed with discospondylitis 2 weeks ago. She also had a bad UTI when I received her at 3 months old. Just like you the bacteria culture from her first UTI and her most recent culture came back as different bacteria strains. Staphylococcus pseudintermedius was the most recent strain cultured.
    I was seeing a local veterinarian and he misdiagnosed her with Panosteitis after taking an X-ray of her leg. She was given anti inflammatory and pain meds for 5 months and kept going downhill, so I took her to a specialist. She could barely walk and was in horrific pain. The specialist knew after giving her a thorough physical exam and watching her walk that she did not have Panosteitis. He then did X-rays of her spine, hips and legs and saw that one of her disks was not normal. Tomorrow she will have been on antibiotics for 2 weeks. I am seeing improvement everyday day. Friday she is starting physical therapy and walking on an underwater treadmill. Have you heard anything about this kind of therapy and if it helps? I am really hoping so because she’s lost so much muscle and movement in her back end. My poor girl has been sick pretty much her whole life and it breaks my heart. I know I can’t think: “I wish I would have taken her to a specialist earlier,” because I thought I was doing the best I could for her taking her to a local vet, but it’s hard not to think that way. Best lesson I learned is to always get a second opinion. Don’t stick with a vet that isn’t willing to dig deep into the root of the problem. All it would’ve took is a blood test to see that her white blood cells were off the charts to know that she was sick. I just hope we caught it early enough. Her bones are still growing for another 16 months so I have faith that she will have a normal, happy, pain free life in the future. These past months have been hell. Something I never imagined going through with a pet/best friend. Hearing you say that your pup ended up living a normal life made me feel even more optimistic.
    Did the disease ever come back later down the road after the 6 months of antibiotics?
    Thanks again!

    Whitney

    • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

      Hi Whitney. I’m so sorry to hear that Indy’s been struggling, but glad that you’re seeing improvement and that she’s on the road to recovery. I agree that getting a second opinion is a must – especially if your pet isn’t showing improvement relatively quickly. That’s a lesson you and I both had to learn with this unfortunate disease.

      The good news is, Ty lived to be 15 years old, and never had another issue with discospondylitis after he completed his 6-month course of antibiotics. His vertebra healed and he lived a very long life for a Shar-pei. I hope the same is true for your Indy. My thoughts are with you.

    • Josie says:

      Hi Whitney.
      Thank you for posting your comment. How is your girl doing? Has she recovered 100% and is her spine damaged from the infection?
      My 2yr old German Shepherd was misdiagnosed with a pinched nerve because he had been hit by a car a year ago. Two months later a CT scan showed the discospondylitus
      and was put on iv antibiotics at the vets hospital. His lab work came back negative and we don’t know what bacteria or if it’s a fungal infection. Today they are going to grab fluid from his spine and hopefully get a result. I’m at a crossed road because my vet has had him for 9 days and I got to visit him a few days ago. He did not look good at all. One leg is going lame.His CT scan showed multiple legions in his spine. My poor baby is suffering so much. I’m hoping this last test will give us a result and hopefully has been treated with right antibiotics. My dog was super healthy and strong prior to this so I’m giving him a fighting chance. I’m reading different stories on how those dogs came back and that it took two weeks before they saw improvement. We’re at the beginning of week two, but not sure if he’s on the right meds until after spinal fluid test. My fingers are crossed and lots of prayers. Thank you
      Josie

  • Kevin says:

    My otherwise 100 percent healthy and active 12yo German Shepherd tore the CCL in his right knee in Dec and had TPLO. He had the other one done in 2015 with no issues. 50 days into rehabing his right knee, in a matter of 15 min, he went from doing good to fever, lethargy, and inability to rise from side. I went back and infection was suspected in his knee. Cytology and cultures were taken of the knee. He had urine and blood cultures, tested for tick borne illness, and ultrasound of everything, and neuro exams. I suspected and tried to tell them I suspected his pain was originating in T6 of his spine. Results of knee came back of knee with bacteria but TPLO plate was negative. Culture was done for plate but not on sample that yielded bacteria due to sample size. Very frustrating because I wanted the culprit bscteria identified. The consensus diagnosis was Discospondylitis. He is on Cephalexin, Gabapentin, Rimadyl, and Codeine. I’m on Day 10 of complete agony, rollercoaster. I have not see a whole lot of improvement. Trouble rising which is compounded by the knee surgery. I’m obviously frustrated not knowing if Cephalexin is the right antibiotic and might need more time or if a change is needed.
    Any advice on antibiotics would help. I think its Staphylcoccal psuedimedius or MSRP. Tonite is the most confortable he’s been sine Feb 5th. This is one terrible disease. Thank you, and I know what you went through. Also, my vets have not been very helpful or accomodating which has been tearing me up. Feel a bit overwhelmed. I’m $9500.00 in since December.

    • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

      Kevin, I’m so sorry to hear that you and your dog are suffering through this. If you’re not seeing steady improvement, my recommendation would be to get another opinion. We were fortunate to have Ty seen by a veterinary neurologist who was able to get him on the proper course of treatment. It seems to me that within a week Ty was showing signs of improvement. Of course, on top of the knee surgery, it will likely take your dog a little longer to improve.

      I really hope this helps and I wish you all the best. Please give your sweet boy a belly rub from me.

    • Diane says:

      Kevin, are you seeing any relief now w/the antibiotics and pain meds. My 7 month old lab was just diagnosed with this and he has in the base of his neck along w/a torn ACL. We are delaying the ACL surgery in hopes of getting pain under control. Just stated the new antibiotics and pain meds but my guy is waking up every few hours in extreme pain screaming. Wondering how long it took for your pup to get some relief if any. My guy is on Cephalexin and Doxy along w/pain meds

      • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

        Diane, I’m so sorry to hear that your boy is hurting so badly! It may take a few days for the meds to kick in, but I’d talk to your vet to see if there’s something more/different they can do for pain management in the meantime. Wishing you both the best!

    • Bill E Bailey says:

      Hi Kevin,
      I also have a GSD who has discospondylitis. Mine couldn’t
      walk and screamed in pain whenever he tried to stand or walk. My vet claimed he did bloodwork and checked for UTI
      and found nothing. Took him to a university teaching hospital and they found the problem. I opted for him to have
      the surgery to remove some of the infection. That was on
      6/05/2020. They couldnt remove all of the infection and
      he is taking 750 mg of Cephalexin twice a day. After just under a month I am starting to quit giving him his pain
      meds and he appears to be doing pretty well. His left rear leg is very week but we have been working on short walks
      and a few other exercises. My Hunter is a Search and Rescue Tracking K9 and I am trying my best to get him back to his old self. Only time will tell.
      If you have any questions I will try and help. There isnt
      very much help on the internet as far as any kind of therapy
      you should do.
      Hope all turns out great for you.
      Bill

  • Celena Kelly says:

    My 13 month old dog was just diagnosed with Discospondylitis. We are currently waiting on blood work results but they didn’t find any bacteria in her urine sample. She can go months with no pain and then there’s a 7 day span where she is whining and walking around with her head down. The vet initially thought it was growing pains so we didn’t think much of it. I pray it’s not fungal related or Brucella but those are the only other two options since it’s not bacterial. Has anyone’s pets had Discospondylitits caused by Brucella or fungal?

    • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

      Hi Celena. I’m so sorry to hear that your pup is suffering. We weren’t dealing with Brucella or a fungal infection, but I so hope that your vet is able to nail down the cause and help your dog. All the best to you both!

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