It was the last Saturday of the Shooting season and Alfie had become a real star on the local shoot that season, gaining in reputation as the dog to call in when a difficult runner was giving all the other dogs the run around. He would be shown where the bird had fallen and then he would be off deep into the woods or into heavy cover only to return a few minutes later with the bird tenderly held in his mouth.

The day was damp and cold and not much for us to do but stand around most of the day and watch with only a couple of pheasants to pick up. After the last drive of the day as we made our way back to the car. Alfie didn’t seem his self and on getting to the car would not jump in and I had to lift him in.

 

On getting home the normal thing was for Alfie to stand around demanding his well earned dinner but this time he just went straight to bed and didn’t get up the next day for his breakfast……..something was wrong and we arranged to get him down to the Vets first thing Monday morning.

The Vet could not find anything wrong and we both agreed that maybe he had pulled or strained a muscle although he wasn’t limping; anyway he was given a shot of pain killer and a hand full of tablets to take over the next week and told to just let him rest and keep an eye on him.

We had been invited to work on the Tue (the last day of the shooting season) on a walk through with some of the members of the local shoot but I had to cancel due to the fact that Alfie was not fit enough. Well on the Wed morning he was up and about again as if nothing had happened……..

All was forgotten and it was put down to just one of those things and life went on as normal. We went on the Hunting training day down at Elstead in February arrange by the ISCGB and had a great day with all the gang of Spinoni. It was really nice to see so many ‘Show people’ and their dogs getting down and dirty with us ‘Working people’, some got very muddy indeed and with Crufts just around the corner…….but they all joined in and had a very nice day out and enjoyed themselves seeing their dogs hunting in those fabulous grounds.

Early March we had a weeks holiday up in the Lake district and this year we woke up on the Sunday morning to very deep snow……..but that didn’t stop us going out and about for nice long walks. About mid week after an evening walk on the side of a large hill Alfie started to show the same signs of not wanting to put any load on his back legs, so we kept him on the extendable lead for the rest of the week with just gentle flat walks. On returning home he was not getting any better so we went back to the vet thinking that this muscle strain had flared up again. Still no clear signs of what was wrong we were given more tables but this time it didn’t get any better and in the end we agree to have Alfie x rayed just in case it was one of his joints.

The morning that Alfie went in for the x rays the head vet was on duty (we had known her for many years in fact since she first started up her practice) She made a quick examination of Alfie and felt that it wasn’t his back legs…….but was his spine.

On picking him up that evening she confirmed that it was his spine and it was very serious. She told us that he had an infection of the spine call ‘Diskospondylitis’. He couldn’t stand on his own and we thought that was due to the anaesthetic not fully wearing off, but we now think it was the Spinal tap that was done to try and confirm this infection. It took over a week before he could stand and walk without toppling over as his left hand side of his body was very weak.

During that week we took it upon ourselves to find out as much as we could about ‘Diskospondylitis’

It is a bacterial or fungal infection of the vertebrae and the intervertebral discs this results in inflammation and bone loss which all puts pressure or compression on the spinal cord.

This infection is most commonly caused although no one seems to know for definite by plant awns (e.g. grass seeds, fox tails) it’s thought that the bacteria or fungi on the awns enter the blood system when the awns piece the skin. Bacterial endocarditis, urinary tract infections, or dental disease/extractions may be another means by which the bacteria enters the bloodstream and infect the vertebrae. Brucella canis has also been found to cause the disease in dogs.

The common symptoms of the disease include weight loss, lack of appetite, depression, fever and back pain. Dogs with this disease are generally reluctant to run or jump.

Diagnosing this infection can be difficult….blood test, x-rays and spinal taps may be necessary. Cultures of blood and urine are often performed to try and isolate the cause and choose the appropriate treatment.

Alfie was put on a course of anti inflammatory drops (Metacam) and also very strong dosage of antibiotics (Relexine). Also he would need to be restricted on his walks ….no free running. After 4 weeks he went back in for another x ray with strict instruction from us not to do any more spinal taps. The infection although not getting any worst was not improving. This was a concern and we were referred to a specialist with maybe the need to operate.

The Specialist took Alfie in for the day and performed an MRI scan and also did a spinal tap (he assured us that he did about 5 or 6 daily with no side effect) we needed to get to the bottom of this so agreed. We pick him up late evening and he was as bright as a young dog on seeing us so all went well. The specialist confirmed that it was Diskospondylitis and told us to carry on with the treatment from our vet but added another strong antibiotic (Metronidazole).

We still needed to restrict his exercise to walking on lead and no playing with other dogs etc. This was becoming very hard as Alfie had forgotten that he was ill and has always been an active dog and loves to hunt when off lead. He had now lost all his muscle tone and in our eyes didn’t look like a dog that used to work all day over all terrains and still want more. By the end of May he was taken off all his medication and very closely monitored over the next few weeks.

Mid June he went in for another x-ray which showed that not only had the infection been stopped but that the bone density was starting to increase……..but he will still need to be restricted on his walks but we can start to increase the length of the walks and slowly bring him back to full fitness.

The vet feels that although he is recovering it may take a long time (many more months) to get him back to his full fitness and we need to take it slowly….again very hard with a dog who thinks he IS fit and ready to carry on where he left off. Thankfully the x rays don’t seem to be necessary any more…well not at the moment but he has to go back to the vet every 2 weeks to be checked over and to see how much progress has taken place. This is being done by pressing the affected areas and watching his response. Both the vet and the Specialist commented that when he was very ill just how well behaved he was ……. They tell me that this is a very painful experience for a dog and all the dogs that they had seen over the years that had this condition would snarl and try and bite anyone who touched the affected areas because of the pain. But Alfie would just turn his head around and look into their eyes as if to say “please don’t do that it hurts”. This speaks volumes for the good kind nature of Spinoni.

Could this infection have been avoided? I’m not sure but early detection has help put Alfie back on the long road to recovery. One thing that I am certain about… I would not change Alfie’s life style to try and protect him from this sort of thing. He was breed to Hunt Point and Retrieve and I strongly believe that all dogs that are bred for a purpose should try to achieve that purpose. Alfie loves to Hunt and you can see it in his eyes and his manor when he is out and about on shoots. Working Test are more for me, even though Alfie again loves to do all the exercises that make up a Working Test. We have not yet tried Field Trials but I am sure if we ever get to a standard that I feel that we could compete we would jump at it.

This has been a painful and slow recovery for Alfie with a few set backs along the way and I only hope that over the coming months he will make a full recovery. Even if we can’t again work on the shoots or compete in Working Tests or Field Trials we would still go out and about in the woods and fields hunting just for the fun of doing it. Alfie would not be suitable to just walk the streets and sit around at home all day.

Things that can be done to try and prevent this and other injuries is to always check over your dog after any walk or exercise, looking for cuts and seeds etc. Spinoni do not complain like some other breeds when they are hurt so look over them carefully.

Always be aware of any change in their behaviour…this could be nothing or like Alfie it could be the start of an illness. Make sure that you are fully insured for your dogs as any treatment can and will be expensive and you don’t need the extra worry of how to pay on top of the worry about your dog.

One final thing I would like to thank everyone who knows Alfie for their concern and interest in seeing him make a full recovery. I’m sure this won’t be the last article that I will write about Alfie, so let’s hope that the next instalment will be on a more positive subject.

Colin Elliott