What is Vertebral Disc Inflammation?
Vertebral disc inflammation is typically caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, though immunosuppression is known to be a possible component of the condition. Large and giant breed male, intact dogs are prone to the inflammation. German Shepherds, Boxers, Labrador Retrievers and Great Danes are highly documented, but this disease can affect any breed or size of dog. Discospondylitis will cause spinal instability that can lead to complications like disc extrusion or herniation, or vertebral fractures.With prompt treatment, the prognosis can be good for a dog with vertebral disc inflammation.
Inflammation of the intervertebral discs and vertebral endplates is known in veterinary terms as discospondylitis. A fairly common disease in dogs, it is caused by a presence of infection between the discs. There can be predisposing factors like diabetes mellitus and hypoadrenocorticism.
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Symptoms of Vertebral Disc Inflammation in Dogs
At the onset of the inflammation, signs may be vague. As the illness progresses, symptoms become more evident and intense.
- Spinal pain (the initial symptom)
- Reluctance to walk
- Arched back
- Stilted gait
- Limb weakness
- Neurological deficits like uncoordinated walk and limb weakness
Systemic symptoms, such as depression, lethargy, weight loss and fever may be present, too.
Inflammation of the vertebral discs is usually found in the C6/C7, T5/T6, T13/L1, and L1/S1 locations. Evaluation of your dog will also include investigation into systemic and organ related reasons for disc inflammation.
Causes of Vertebral Disc Inflammation in Dogs
Most often, the cause will be of a bacterial nature. However, many other elements should be taken into account.
- Bacteria - Staphylococcus spp, streptococcus spp, brucella canis, and escherichia coli
- Fungus - Aspergillus (female German Shepherds are predisposed)
- Basset Hounds are susceptible due to systemic tuberculosis
- Penetrating wounds
- Plant material migration
- Urinary tract infection
- Oral cavity or dental infection
- Respiratory infection
- Localized foreign body
Exercise and trauma to the spine can cause an aggravation of the condition.
Diagnosis of Vertebral Disc Inflammation in Dogs
If your canine companion is showing signs of disc inflammation, do not delay in contacting the veterinary clinic for an appointment. Your pet may be in more pain than you are aware, and further complications can arise the longer you wait.
When you arrive at the clinic be sure to describe in great detail all of the symptoms that your dog has been experiencing, along with the approximate time of the onset of signs. Any information you can provide will assist the veterinary team in making their diagnosis.
Blood tests and a urinalysis may indicate the organism that could be at the root of the problem. Included in the blood analysis will be a test for the bacterial organism, brucella canis, specifically because this is an infection of zoonotic nature (meaning it is contagious).
Spinal radiographs are an important part of the diagnosis. Damage to the end plates and the collapse of disc space can be clearly seen with this method of observation. It should be noted that the x-ray will involve the entire spine, as the potential for multiple infections along the spine is considerable.
Treatment of Vertebral Disc Inflammation in Dogs
If the inflammation has resulted in significant neurological defects or evidence of severe disc damage is apparent on the x-ray, hospitalization may be necessary in order to bring your pet back to health via the use of intravenous fluids and medication. If your dog is suffering from a systemic disease that has been implicated, the hospital treatment will also include therapy to treat the condition. Often, a urinary tract infection can be the reason for the bacteria responsible for the inflammation, and therefore, needs to be addressed. In some cases, surgery may be needed to repair disc damage.
Antibiotic treatment is the normal protocol for vertebral disc inflammation. Response should be evident within 5 days. If no improvement is seen, your veterinarian may decide to do further testing in the form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan. Needle aspiration of the disc space is another option for investigation if the response is nil, or if the urine, blood and brucellosis test is inconclusive.
Recovery of Vertebral Disc Inflammation in Dogs
Broad spectrum antibiotic therapy will be put in place for 8 to 16 weeks. Cage rest, (which must be in an area that offers your pet peace and quiet) lasting 3 to 6 weeks, is highly advised to avoid injury to the discs and vertebrae. Pain relief will be available as needed. Your dog may need assistance with getting up, and going outside for bathroom breaks.
Follow up radiographs will be part of the recovery because verification of the disc repair and confirmation of eradication of the bacteria must be seen in order to remove the restriction of cage rest, and to verify if the antibiotics are working as they should to completely remove the infection.
Adhere to the instructions of the veterinarian, and keep in communication with the clinic at all times. Never stop the antibiotics prematurely, even if your dog appears to be drastically improved. If you have any concerns or questions, do not hesitate to check with the veterinary team.
The prognosis is good for recovery of this condition, contingent upon how advanced the condition was at time of diagnosis, your pet’s response to treatment, whether neurological effects are in place, and the number of discs that were affected. Brucellosis as a cause gives a lower chance of recovery, as does the fungal infection caused by aspergillus spp. Surgical patients may or may not experience complete recovery, depending on the extent of the disc damage and whether there are severe lesions on the vertebrae.
Vertebral Disc Inflammation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hello. My corgi/mini Aussie mix was diagnosed with diskospondylitis 2 years ago when he was 3 months old. He was treated with Simplicef for 6 months and he got better. He seemed to make a full recovery and has been a vibrant young pup. However, 5 weeks ago he started to limp again. I noticed that he had what appeared to be an abrasion lesion on the pad of his back foot. We took him to our local vet and they stated that it was indeed an abrasion lesion. He has continued to limp. Again we took him to our vet when the limp wasn’t improving after 2 weeks. They re-assured us that it is just an abrasion lesion. We are continuing to rest him and we don’t allow any rough play and we only allow short leashed walks. About 1 week ago (still limping), he started to vomit. He vomited 3 times in 1 day and then got better. Three days later (today) he vomited twice again. My question is: should we be worried about this limping and vomiting being associated with his past history of discospondylitis? Also, is there anything else that I should be doing? Should we take him back to the veterinary neurologist? Any help is much much appreciated! Thank you!
Thank you Dr. Turner. I appreciate your advice!
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Dr. Michele King, DVM, said my dog should get therapy before losing muscle mass in his back legs. He already has lost most of the musculature in the kind legs--outer muscles. But has inner muscles still. He's only had the problem of not being able to walk for about 10 weeks, but the muscles really have atrophied. Can we get those muscles back? Otherwise, he won't ever be able to walk again. I am buying a therapy pool for him today, and the warm water and swimming may help. Otherwise, he is on antibiotics for eight weeks so far, and the surgeon said give it 16 weeks max. But he has not seen our GSD, other than MRI, and blood test, and fungal test results. He has a bacterial infection that started with a bad UTI. He is in good mood, great appetite, needs to lose about 20 pounds, the vet said. Should we wait for the duration of antibiotic treatment, or go to the Colorado State surgeon ASAP? I've read sometimes if a dog doesn't get surgery quickly enough, he or she can be permanently disabled. He does move his legs a lot, while I am carrying him in the back yard, but just can't quite get up and put weight on the hind legs. I worry about this atrophy--rather rapid. He does not have degenerative myopathy, the Colorado State neurosurgeon said, after viewing the MRIs. But he wants to see our dog in person. It's a seven hour drive up there, and that may exacerbate his problem just the travel.
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My German Shepherd male, intact, age 7, was diagnosed with spinal bacterial infection and imflammation, possibly herniated discs, three months ago. He was prescribed antibiotics and my wife gives the medication to him every day. He still cannot walk on his back legs. When we brought him in to the neurologist, she said he had a bad UTI, and that likely resulted in the problem. His MRI and blood tests, fungal tests, were all sent to Colorado State Vet Hospital, my preferred location, and the nurse showed these to a surgeon who said keep up with the antibiotics for now. But he started having slight problems walking last summer, and in September it was a lot worse. He is very strong with his front legs, and I carry him around by his hind legs--which he seems to like. His appetite is excellent. His attitude very good. No lethargy, no depression, but pain fairly often. I give him cannabis oil in his food, and it works. How long should we wait before seriously considering needle work on the spine, or surgery? The nurse said the surgery could kill him, or leave him totally paralyzed. His hind legs are not paralyzed. He moves them quite a lot, but just can't quite stand on those back legs. Almost, but that only counts with hellfire and hand grenades. We want him to get back to walking! He is very frustrated. Highly intelligent boy, very loyal, playful, he has it all.
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