What is Alabama rot?
Alabama rot, also known as Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV), is a potentially fatal condition affecting dogs in the UK. It is a disease which causes damage and blockages in the blood vessels of the skin and kidneys.
The disease first occurred in greyhounds in Alabama, USA in the 1980s but has been reported in the UK since 2012. Initially cases were restricted only to the New Forest, but >240 cases have since been reported across 43 counties. Although still rare, cases seem to be on the increase.
What causes Alabama rot?
The cause of Alabama rot is unknown but research is ongoing.
Dogs usually become affected after walking in muddy woodland, usually in winter or spring. More than 90% of cases are between November and May. We tend to see peaks of cases when the weather warms up a little, or when there has been heavy rainfall.
Experts are suspicious the cause might be an infectious agent combined with some kind of environmental trigger.
What are the signs of Alabama rot?
The first sign of Alabama rot is the appearance of sores or ulcers on the skin. These are typically seen on the paws and lower legs (80% of cases) but can also be found on the underside of the belly or chest, and face.
The appearance of the sores varies from dog to dog. Typically they are associated with hair loss and an ulcer-like appearance. The sores are usually painful and so the dog will likely chew/lick the affected area.
Within a few days, the disease progresses to cause kidney failure. The signs of kidney failure include a reduced appetite, increased drinking, vomiting and lethargy.
Can all dogs get Alabama rot?
The disease can affect dogs of any age but UK expert David Walker (Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialists) advised that it is typically seen in middle aged dogs, the average age being around 5 years old. He also reported that it seems to be more common among females, and that there are some breeds more commonly affected than others. These include gun dogs such as labradors, springer spaniels, vislas and whippets. It is not yet clear whether this is related to a genuine predisposition or related to the activities and lifestyle of these dogs.
What can I do to prevent my dog getting Alabama rot?
Since we do not yet know the cause of Alabama rot, it is difficult to know how to prevent it. Most affected dogs recently walked in muddy woodland and so it makes sense to rinse off their legs after a walk. However, there is not yet any hard scientific evidence that this is effective.
Alabama rot remains rare, so try not to worry. Nonetheless, there is no harm in remaining vigilant. Keep an eye/ear out for reports of cases in your area. Know the signs and give your dog a once over daily. Don't forget to look in hidden places like between the toes. If you have any concerns, get them checked out by a vet.
What should I do if I think my dog has Alabama rot?
If you spot ulcers or sores on your dogs' skin, try not to panic. There are many more common disorders which cause skin sores than Alabama rot.
That being said, it is better to be safe than sorry so still get your dog checked by a vet. Do not wait to see what happens - the earlier the condition is diagnosed and treated, the more likely it is that the dog will recover.
How is Alabama rot diagnosed?
Your vet might suspect Alabama rot based on the dogs' presenting signs. However, there are no blood or laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis. It can only be confirmed on post-mortem examination.
Can Alabama rot be treated?
Since we do not know the cause, there is no "cure" for Alabama rot.
Early and aggressive treatment is key to a dog's survival. Treatment will be focussed on relieving the dog's symptoms and supporting their kidneys.
Dogs with skin sores ONLY generally make a full recovery with veterinary treatment.
For those dogs that have skin lesions AND kidney failure, treatment needs to be very intensive. Dogs will need to be hospitalised for days if not weeks.
Unfortunately >80-90% of dogs that have suspected Alabama rot and go on to develop kidney disease, die from the condition.
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