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Common Signs of Discospondylitis in Dogs You Should Know

Discospondylitis is a fungal or bacterial infection that affects the vertebral bones and the intervertebral discs lying between your dog’s spine. The first sign that your dog may be developing this condition is back pain.

In dogs, back pain is characterized by a hunched appearance, difficulty walking normally and difficulty jumping up to a favorite spot in the house. 

Signs of this condition slowly progress with time. You may notice that your dog is moving slower or is reluctant to exercise.  

Although any dog can develop this condition, it’s most often seen in large-breed dogs. Rates of Discospondylitis among dogs vary depending on the dog’s immune status, breed , and underlying conditions.

Discospondylitis in dogs is painful

Is Discospondylitis in Dogs Contagious?

Thankfully, this is not a contagious condition. Dogs that are prone to this may develop it through the penetration of fungi or bacteria into the bloodstream via a wound. The infected blood flows through the spinal column and around the disk space. This movement allows the bacteria/fungi to lodge into the area. The result is a serious and painful infection.

Other causes of Discospondylitis in dogs include:

Direct contamination

Direct contamination means the fungi or the bacteria directly deposits adjacent to the disk. This can happen through a puncture wound over the spine or because of a deep bite wound. 

Surgical Complications

Although rare, it is possible for surgery to create this kind of infection. Surgery has inherent risks, and infection is one of them. 

Veterinarians normally prescribe an antibiotic for administration after surgery to avoid possible complications like infection.

Foreign bodies

Migrating foreign bodies such as grass awn may reach the spinal cord. They can enter into the body through penetrating wounds, ingestion, or inhalation.

Ongoing Current Infection

If your dog already has an infection of UTI or an abscess, that can contribute to disease development. Contaminated wounds can spread to the vertebral column and cause unseen proliferation of infection. 

Trauma

Injuries that involve trauma and cause bone fracture can leave the skeleton vulnerable to bacterial infection. 

How to Help a Dog With Discospondylitis

Since this is such a painful condition, you’ll need to prevent your dog from attempting to jump anywhere. You’ll also want to protect your dog from any staircase or areas where he/she could easily get hurt.

It might even be necessary to keep your dog away from other pets in the house, toddlers, etc.

A few things to help you keep your dog safe include:

Safety Gate

Baby safety gates are the best option to use when you need to keep your dog away from dangerous steps or out of certain areas of the house.

Secure Crates

Sometimes it seems almost cruel to keep a dog in a crate but they actually provide a sense of protection and security for dogs. If your dog is in pain or unwell, a good crate can help ease some anxiety while protecting him/her from other animals, etc.

Signs and Symptoms of Discospondylitis in Dogs

The pain of Discospondylitis is due to the pressure  on the spinal cord. This pressure  results in vertebrae and disk  inflammation.

Common symptoms include:

  • Pain in abdomen
  • Stiffness or back pain
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Collapse
  • Coordination loss
  • Lameness
  • Hunched back.
  • Poor reflex
  • Difficulty in rising up
  • Shaking
  • Staggering
  • Tremors
  • Loss of weight
  • Paralysis of limbs

With the progression of the disease, the dog acquires stiffness and weakness of muscles of limbs. The dog becomes paralyzed during severe cases.  Most affected dogs show some non-specific signs of anorexia, loss of weight, and lethargy. Five Painful Signs of Discospondylitis dog are:

Back and Neck pain

When you touch an infected region, your dog may react vocally. Other signs of back and neck pain include hesitation to turn the back, limited ability to get up, climb or even walk. A low tail, decrease in tail wagging, and trouble posturing to defecate are other signs.

Mobility Issues – Especially in the Hind Legs

Watch for stumbling episodes, obvious fatigue, lameness, difficulty standing, and paralysis (mostly in extreme cases). 

Weakness

You know your dog best, so if you are aware of unusual behavior from him/her be sure to pay a visit to the veterinarian. If your normally active dog is suddenly very still and not wanting to participate in otherwise favorite activities (fetch, walking, running, playing with other animals, etc.) it could be a sign that something serious is going on.

Lameness

Lameness occurs when your dog is unable to use one or more limbs properly. Very commonly, it is linked with discomfort or disability.

Paralysis

Paralysis can occur, especially in untreated dogs.

Affected dogs can exhibit an inability to sit, trouble walking, lack of balance, and usually an upward curvature between the spine’s shoulders and hips. In extreme instances, there can also be numbness or stiffness of the thoracic limbs, impaired neurological control, and a loss of pelvic limb proprioception, contributing to paralysis. 

Diagnosis of Discospondylitis 

Signs and symptoms of Discospondylosis can look like a number of other conditions, including Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD). 

Blood tests like CBC and biochemistry profile help to determine the imbalances due to infection in the body. To check the muscles’ electrical activity, your vet will conduct an electromyogram, or he can collect the CSF sample through a spinal tap.

The cerebrospinal fluid analysis helps diagnose infection and identify which fungi or bacteria the culprit is—X-rays and radiography imaging help locate the infection site and extent.

 In most cases, the lab diagnosis is associated with the use of a contrast dye injected into the spinal cord space to see the movement of fluid in the spine during performing X-rays.  

discosponylitis in dogs can be caused by a bacterial infection

Treatment

Treatment options depend on the cause of the condition. 

The most common cause of Discospondylitis in dogs is Staphylococcus, E.coli, or Streptococcus and antibiotics are the first line of defence. 

It’s important to understand that:

  • Treatment needs a long time, at least 2 to 3 months. If there is a fear that the infection will return, you dog may be on medications for longer.
  • If your dog doesn’t respond to antibiotic therapy, a fungal infection is suspected. If your vet isolates a fungal organism, he/she will prescribe an anti-fungal therapy.

Types of Antibiotics and/or AntiFungal Options

Minocycline

Minocycline is the drug of choice with a dose rate of 10 mg/kg body weight for one month, along with an injection of streptomycin at 20mg/kg.

Streptomycin or Gentamycin

An alternative to streptomycin is gentamycin (with a dose rate of 5 mg/kg body weight during the first four weeks of treatment).

Enrofloxacin and/or Doxycycline 

Some people use a safe combination of enrofloxacin at a dose rate of 5 mg/kg along with doxycycline at (5mg/kg body weight)

In addition to antibiotic therapy, you should include pain-relieving medicines during the early disease. Patients that have pain responds to:

  1. Gabapentin
  2. Tramadol
  3. NSAIDs

In case of severe pain, the veterinarian will suggest or prescribe pain-relieving medication.  Occasionally, surgical intervention becomes necessary when you need to decompress and stabilize the spine. 

Prognosis of Discospondylitis in Dogs:

In bacterial Discospondylitis, the prognosis is good if early treatment and diagnosis are given.

A Fair to slow prognosis occurs in fungal discospondylitis and usually needs a long duration of treatment.

 Brucellosis is difficult to cure; however, with the right treatment a dog can continue with a reasonable quality of life.

While the prognosis for dogs with bacterial infection is healthy with prompt care, dogs that develop a fungal infection instead, the prognosis usually is more guarded. 

Conclusion

Discospondylitis a very painful condition for dogs that is usually the result of a bacterial or fungal infection.

Large dog breeds appear to be more prone to this, however it can happen in any dog. Watch for signs of pain that include slow walking, tail between the legs, difficulty jumping or moving in general. 

Keep in mind that these signs can also signify a variety of other conditions. Always contact a veterinarian if your dog shows any of the signs mentioned in this post. 

SOURCES:

VCA Hospital

Southeast Veterinary

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