A year ago, Zanda’s family went through a serious loss when their two year old terrier, Lexi, suffered from a severely prolapsed spinal disc. She developed incurable paralysis, and they had to make the agonisingly difficult decision to have her euthanased.

Soon after her death, they took on Zoe, as a puppy. She was a welcome distraction from their grief, with her playfulness and enthusiasm for life. Zoe grew up as a healthy young dog, but two weeks ago, for no obvious reason, she suddenly developed signs of illness that were ominously similar to Lexi’s slipped disc.

It started one morning, when Zoe seemed unusually lethargic, spending most of her time in bed. When she did get out of the bed, she walked around very slowly, and when Zanda touched her back, she yelped in pain.  Zanda brought her down to the vet clinic at once: after everything that happened with Lexi, she understood the importance of prompt treatment for back problems.

When she was examined on that first day,  it was immediately obvious that she did indeed have a painful back. When she was touched around the middle of her body, on top, she yelped in pain. There were some signs that this might be different from Lexi: she didn’t have the weakness of the back legs that he had suffered from, and she had a high temperature (something that had never developed in Lexi). But it was similar enough that Zanda, her family, and her vet were all worried.

Zoe was booked in to be investigated, including blood samples and x-rays. After her experiences with Lexi, Zanda had made the decision to have  Zoe insured from the start, so that if complex procedures were needed at any stage in her life, the insurance company would cover the costs. It’s rare for young dogs to need detailed, expensive work-ups, but this was an example, and it was a relief that the best treatment could definitely be given, regardless of cost.

The x-rays brought good news: there was no evidence of the serious type of spinal disease that had affected Lexi. At this stage, it seemed as if she might have suffered a serious sprain of her back, so she was given pain relief, along with antibiotic cover.  She had continued to have a high temperature, something often associated with bacterial infections, and we were also worried that she might have an early focus of some sort of infection deep in the tissues around her spine.

Zoe responded well to this treatment, becoming more active and beginning to run around like normal. But two days later, something strange happened: she began to bleed from several points along her back, in the same area that she’d been painful.  She was brought back for me to check, and when I felt along her back, I could feel that bumps and scabs had developed in the area, and she was still painful. I sedated her so that she was relaxed and pain-free, then I used electric clippers to remove the fur all along her back.

I was surprised to discover that a nasty, acne-like rash was hidden beneath her fur: when she was clipped, it could be seen to extend along most of her back. The skin was red and sore, and blood was oozing from multiple small ulcerated areas. Now we could understand why her back had been so sore, and why her temperature had been raised. A severe, deep infection had been developing under the surface of her skin, but it had taken until now for it to burst out so that it could be seen.

I took some biopsy samples, as well as some swabs to have cultured in the laboratory, and meanwhile, I started her onto a new, strong antibiotic. When I saw her again two days later, she was like a different dog: the oozing, sore skin had dried up and looked comfortable, and she was behaving like a puppy, playing normally and wanting to go for walks.

When the biopsy and culture results came in, they confirmed that the problem had been a severe skin infection called “deep pyoderma”, caused by a rare bacteria called Pseudomonas which was resistant to a wide range of antibiotics. The good news is that the problem is completely curable, and Zoe is doing well on continued antibiotic cover. Her damaged skin is healing well, and the fur is growing back in.

At first, it seemed as if Zanda’s family were having a re-run of their tragedy from a year ago. Thank goodness, this time, the news has been far, far better.