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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  • Hi Amy,
    Just read your article as my 4 year old German Shepherd has been diagnosed with DS. We first thought it was a hip issue. We also had blood work done and his kidney levels were elevated. He spent 4 nights in the hospital, receiving fluids and antibiotics by IV. He’s been home about 2 weeks now and taking oral medications. He is showing improvement but pretty much just wants to stay on his dog bed. He also doesn’t have much of an appetite. We are still waiting for the fungal test results to rule that out or not. We have steps on our deck to the lower yard and a back door with no steps. So I think I’ll take him out that door. He still cries when having to get up. I hope that improves over time. Appreciate you posting this.

    Mark
    Idyllwild Ca

    • Mark, I’m so sorry to hear you pup is suffering. There’s nothing worse than knowing they’re hurting. I do remember that while Ty was recovering he also slept a lot, which could have also been caused by the medication. I’m sending good vibes and hoping that your pup is feeling better soon.

      • Thank you Amy, it’s been about 3 weeks and River is still very inactive. Would you mind sharing the type of antibiotic your pup was taking? River is on CLAVAMOX, AMANTADINE and Gabapentin for the pain. Did DS cause any kidney issues with your dog? That is a major concern as his levels haven’t been good. I’ve looked into giving him under the skin injections to keep him hydrated and lower the CREA and BUN numbers. Also, He doesn’t like the K/D support food much. I take him in next week for more labs to see if he has improved. For now he just sleeps all day unless I take him outside. I’m hoping he gets better in a couple of weeks. My vet did say it was goin going to take time. Thanks again, Mark.

        • Hi Mark. If my memory is correct, Ty was on the same medications that your dog is taking. I remember the vet doing a culture to be sure the antibiotic Ty was taking was the best to fight his infection. Perhaps asking your vet to do the same would be a good idea? We were lucky that DS didn’t cause any kidney or other health issues for Ty. I hope you can find a way to keep your boy hydrated — salt-free broth sometimes works because it’s tastier than water. And I hope you’re seeing more improvement soon. Take care.

          • thank you for this article Amy – I am in the same spot you were in with Ty, except we were able to diagnose DS much quicker due to the fact I had rushed to get my dog the surgery hours after being told he had IDD (he lost function of his back legs within hours of onset) and the MRI stated it was instead the infection. I am now just in the waiting stage. He was just diagnosed this evening and we are getting cultures. They just put him on broad antibiotics tonight. Thank you for this article – I have been searching all over tonight for information.

          • Hi Jen. I’m so sorry to hear that your dog is suffering with DS, and I’m glad you found our article helpful. I hope your pup responds to the treatment quickly and is back to his happy-go-lucky self soon. All our best to you both!

          • Hi Amy,
            I’m sorry to say that River lost his battle 2 weeks ago. I am completely heartbroken. He wasn’t responding to any of the medication. When I took him home from the hospital, I was giving him subqutaneous injections to keep him hydrated. His kidneys failed him and his hind legs were so weak. My special boy was only 4. What is most upsetting is the he was misdiagnosed last Sept.(at another vet) He actually improved that summer but in January his symptoms returned. I did what I could for River. I couldn’t sleep at night and most of time stayed in his room to comfort him. The vet told me it was more than likely a fungus due to him not responding to antibacterial medication. River stopped eating 5 days before he passed. Of course not knowing exactly how he got so ill is so frustrating. Not knowing the exact cause. I have Rex, a younger German Shepherd to lean on and get me though the grieving process. We both are pretty needy right now. Thanks for being so kind with your responses. Be well, Mark.

          • Mark, I am so sorry. I know how hard it is to lose a dog “before their time,” and that feeling of being robbed of all the things you imagined doing together. Years and years ago we had a dog who died just before his fourth birthday. So, my heart goes out to you and Rex. The best thing you two can do now is live the life you wanted to give River. Part of him will always be with you.

        • Hi Mark, I came across this article tonight. My pug developed severe “shivers” a couple days ago out of nowhere. I took him to the vet where they did X-rays and I was informed he had herniated discs – we were told it could be treated medicallly or with surgery. He already within hours has lost the use of his hind legs so he was deteriorating so quickly. Just a few days ago he was running around and playful. I ended up rushing him to the ER with the plan to have them do the surgery. They then did an MRI – and it turns out, just like in this article – he has the spinal infection. They could not get enough fluid with a spinal tap to get a culture. They took blood cultures tonight to see if we can locate the bacteria causing the infection. Meanwhile he was put on an antibiotic. Hopefully I will be able to visit him tomorrow if they allow. How is your dog doing now? I know there is a prognosis difference if it is bacterial vs fungal (I have those concerns with my dog as well) Is your dog also being given an antibiotic for a proteus bacteria? That is a less common bacterial cause, but one that could be related if he was having UTI issues prior. I hope your pup is recovering well – I know how stressful this is. It’s so hard to see them in pain.

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