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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  • 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

    • 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.

      • Reassuring to know that your boy after 6 months was fully recovered. My young GSD bitch has just been diagnosed with this..it’s in it’s early stages , and at the moment trying to keep her temperature down. We are going to try her on steroids … apparently a lot of Greyhounds have had a good success rate. I work my girl in competitive obedience , she is a dream and very good…luckily since covid all the shows have stopped here..so I have until next year to get her fit.Oh and she is on 2 lots of antibiotics and pain killers…
        Denise

    • 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

        • Thank you Amy. This is such a horrible infection. I feel like I need to put him down, but from what I am reading they do pull through. If only my dog could talk. xoxo, Josie

          • I hear you, Josie. It would be so much easier if they could talk. Perhaps check with your vet to see if another pain medication might be more effective. Hoping for the best.

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