Discospondylitis is a spinal infection that impacts dogs, although there have been reported cases in cats. This infection affects a dog’s spine, intervertebral discs, and neighboring plates. It starts in the urinary tract, then travels to the spinal discs through the bloodstream. In its beginning stages, it causes pain, and if the infection progresses, it can affect a dog’s neurological function and mobility.
Most often, the cause of canine discospondylitis is a bacterial infection, although in rare cases can be fungal. Fungal infections are more dangerous as they can spread rapidly to different organs and are more challenging to treat.
Understanding the Symptoms of Discospondylitis
A change in a pet’s gait is one of the most easily spotted symptoms of discospondylitis. Stiff and jerky leg movements are quite common and can worsen over time. Dogs and cats will show signs of the condition over several weeks and may exhibit leg weakness or paralysis. The severity of its impact will depend on where the spinal lesion occurs in the spinal column. For example, if the lesion is high up in the cervical spine, it can cause neck pain and impact the front legs. Although, discospondylitis usually appears lower in the spine.
Other canine discospondylitis symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Tiredness and loss of energy
- Weight loss
- Ataxia and leg weakness
How to Treat Canine Discospondylitis
Antibiotics are commonly used to treat discospondylitis. Dogs with extreme pain may require spinal surgery. However, most dogs can expect a good outcome with proper treatment. Expect your dog to be put on medication long-term. Antibiotics may be required for weeks and even as long as a year. The fungal variety is the most challenging form of discospondylitis to treat and can be fatal.
Dogs that have multiple discs impacted can experience neurological deficits and mobility issues that may require physical therapy.
What’s the difference between Spondylosis and Discospondylitis?
Spondylosis is an age-related condition that develops due to a chronic degenerative disease related to wear and tear on the vertebrae. Unlike discospondylitis, Spondylosis in dogs is not caused by an infection but by a joint condition that causes arthritis. Instead, dogs with spondylosis will have a degenerative disc disease. Although spondylosis can be painful, depending on the severity of the condition, a dog doesn’t always show signs of pain. Whereas pain is often the first sign a dog has discospondylitis.
Spondylosis leaves the ends of the plates between intervertebral discs with a distinctive, smooth end that will be visible on a scan. This spinal condition is most common in middle-aged and senior pets.
Paralysis from Discospondylitis
Discospondylitis can lead to mobility problems in dogs that range from weak back legs to paralysis. These types of deficits are more common when the infection has spread to multiple spinal discs or if spinal fractures have occurred.
A dog wheelchair can be helpful to offer back leg support and continued mobility as the pet heals. Dogs with limited use of their hind legs can use a cart during rehab therapy and make it easier for them walk.