Pie has spondylosis.
I have attached some very good articles for people who don't know what this is, but basically it is the spine fusing itself together, using new bone growth. Many people say "spondylosis" when they mean many other diseases including degenerative disk disease. However, spondylosis only truly refers to this bone growth. True spondy without any complications is not painful. With a full spine fusion, the dog is not as flexible but should still be able to move fine. Spondy is an old age disease and most dogs get it as they age. Spondy is not arthritis, even though (again) many people will refer to it as such. Arthritis is the wearing away of cartilage so bone grates on bone, but spondy is new bone growth. I am trying to make this clear so my readers understand why I've made the choices I have regarding Pie. The articles I've attached are very helpful and I suggest reading them.
I've known Pie has had this disease for three years. When I got her hips x-rayed, the vet spotted it. He is a very well known orthopedic vet, so I trusted his instructions when he said I could do agility, but she might not be very competitive. He said no Frisbee or flyball. When I started SchH, I told the club about it when I joined, and we kept it in mind during training.
These are the x-rays from 3 years ago, when she was only 2 years old. I have added the arrows to show the locations of the bone growth.
Three years ago, top view. The x-ray the vet first spotted the spondy.
Three years ago, side view. Only 1 bridge.
I had her back re-xrayed last week to see how it is progressing. She slipped off the sleeve during training a few weeks ago, landed hard, limped a few steps, then seemed ok. However, in agility that weekend she was running slowly and when I trotted her out, seemed to be moving odd. I rested her for the rest of the weekend and she recovered. However, I thought it was possible it was related to her spondy, so decided on a follow up x-ray.
These are the x-rays taken at my vets. I've included both a scan of the x-ray and a close up picture taken of the x-ray. Click on any to enlarge.
Scan of side view of lower back and tail. The arrows show the full bridges or bridging started.
Close up picture of x-ray of lower back.
A dog spine with no spondy for comparison.
Scan of side view, thorax.
Picture of close up of thorax.
Scan of top of spine.
Picture of top of spine.
An x-ray of a healthy spine top view with no bridging for comparison.
Again I used the arrows to point it out. These are conventional x-rays and not nearly as clear as the digital, so it can be hard to see, and yet it is all too clear. Her back is almost completely fused. I don't know how she is as bendy as she is. True to form of the disease, she is not in pain.
It seems unusual it has progressed so fast (how do you grow so much bone in just three years?) and very severe for such a young dog. I sent her x-rays back to the vet who originally spotted it, and he said it can happen to a young dog (Pie is only supposed to be 5) and he suggested getting digital x-rays. But as I said in the previous post, what will that do for us? Some friends with Malinois have suggested it is possible she is older than thought, but we have no real way of telling.
Pie needs to remain active to keep her back strong and healthy. Pie wants to remain active. I have decided to allow her to continue in agility. I've moved her down to 20 inches for the rest of her career- that will allow her to continue to play, but will be less stress. If I went to shows with the other dogs, but did not allow her to participate she would feel punished, let down, jealous, or some other upset doggy emotion. I do not believe continuing in agility will hurt her back, but if it does, is it better for a dog to have a long life, or a fulfilled happy life? Since dogs to not understand longevity, I believe it is better to have a fulfilled, happy life. It is us who want them to live forever.
The vets prediction of her not being as competitive is coming true. Her weaves have slowed down dramatically. But that's fine. I love to run agility with Pie, but she loves it also. Win, loose, or end with me in a heap on the course (has happened more than I'd like to remember) she still has fun, although me falling down does upset her.
However, being the responsible party, I need to take steps to keep her safe. And that means no more SchH. SchH is a sport that is unpredictable and full contact. As safe as the helper tries to be, he can't help the dog if they don't bite hard enough and fall off the sleeve. This is very disappointing to me because our first trail was coming up on my birthday weekend next month and I was very much looking forward to trying for our first SchH title. Yes, I can still trial Dottie, but Pie is extra special to me because she is the first dog I trained in the sport, she has to work harder at it, and she has come so far. She deserves the title and the achievement.
We are only about a month away and it is so tempting to go for it. But the dangerous exercise is the long bite, where she would come flying down the full length of the field, full speed, launch her 60 pounds of Malinois muscle at the "bad guy," latch onto his sleeve, and get swung in a full circle with all her feet off the ground. That can be dangerous for a 100% healthy dog. If one of the bony bridges were to break, that is were the danger lies. It could pinch a nerve leading to pain, paralysis, or disk disease. Pie will still try for her obedience OB2 and tracking TR 1 at the trial, but no protection.
If you play dog sports enough, everyone will eventually face the heartbreak of a dog that dies too early (the worst) or gets injured and can't continue. I personally know many people who both of these have happened to. Pie and I are lucky because she is still in my life (the best) and she is not injured, so we can continue in tracking, obedience and even agility. No more Invitationals (they only take dogs jumping full height), and no AKC Nationals in Reno this year because she isn't qualified at the lower 20 inches. No USDAA ADCH- but to me the worst is the no SchH 1. And yet we still get to have fun together so I am focusing on that, but it still hurts that she will never again run the blinds, zoom past me with what looks like a smile on her face, and pop into a sit in front of the helper, and start her barking. Will she be confident today, or not so much? When I go to get Dottie, Pie still thinks it is her turn (because she always went first) and I can hear her tail- bang, bang, bang- wagging the side of the crate in anticipation. Sorry Pie, no turn for you.
We are lucky, yet I still feel sad.
Here are the very useful articles. I've learned more about canine spondylosis than I ever wanted to know.