Alabama Rot

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In 2012, vets in the New Forest started seeing a number of dogs with the same symptoms: acute kidney damage and skin lesions. Despite intensive fluid therapy most affected dogs died. The power of social media meant that other vets realised they had seen dogs with similar symptoms, and investigations into this deadly new disease began. Tests on tissues from dogs who sadly died revealed damage to blood vessels of the skin and kidney. Tiny blood clots had formed in the blood vessels blocking them – causing damage of the affected tissue. In the skin this caused ulcers, and in the kidney it caused extensive damage and kidney failure.

The correct name for this syndrome is cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV), but similarities to cases in Alabama have given it the nickname ‘Alabama rot’. In the American cases the cause was a toxin produced by E. coli in poorly stored raw meat fed to racing greyhounds. In the UK the same toxin has not been found in affected animals, and the range of breeds and diets has been very broad. Although some areas are considered ‘hotspots’ – having had a cluster of cases – the disease has been diagnosed across the country. Extensive research and environmental investigations have failed to reveal the cause. Muddy wooded areas may carry a higher risk and the disease seems most common from November to March. Despite the huge concerns that dog owners have over CRGV it remains very rare. To October this year there were 16 confirmed cases, (not all cases are confirmed as this requires post-mortem tissue samples).

As the cause remains unknown, and even in affected areas a very small number of the dogs using that area become ill, it is difficult to give any advice on avoiding CRGV. Washing mud off after walks is recommended to allow early visualisation of any skin lesions but may not protect from the illness. Sadly, once the kidney failure symptoms are obvious, treatment is usually unsuccessful. Early cases can respond to intensive fluid therapy, or kidney dialysis at a specialist centre. If your dog seems unwell after a winter walk and has any unusual skin lesions, please contact your vet for advice.