Alabama rot is the name for a serious canine health condition that first made the news in the UK in 2014. Until then, the condition was only really known of in the USA – and up until a few years ago, wasn’t even something that most UK dog owners had even heard of.
However, Alabama rot – or a condition very much like it – has claimed the lives of over 100 dogs since its first few diagnoses in Britain, and whilst outbreaks of the condition tend to make headlines when they occur, the relative rarity of the disease and small total number of affected dogs mean that it remains something that not a lot of dog owners have heard of.
Between 2012 and the start of 2018, a total of 113 dogs in total were known to have died of the disease in the UK – but now that we are just three months into the year, a further 15 fatalities have been recorded so far this year alone, as of the time of writing in March.
Many dog owners who initially learned about the condition a few years ago have more or less forgotten about it since, as coverage of this very new and relatively unknown condition soon died down – but now that several new fatalities have been recorded, it is important that dog owners face the reality that the condition may well be on the rise in the UK – and educate themselves accordingly.
In this article, we will examine what Alabama rot is in more detail, the areas of the country where dogs have recently fallen victim to the condition, and explain the symptoms that dog owners should look out for. Read on to learn more.
One of the main problems with Alabama rot is that nobody really knows what it is, or what causes it.
It is most widely thought to be a bacterial condition, and may be caused by a bacteria from the E.coli family – but even this isn’t known for certain. What we do know is that the presence of the condition causes the release of a high volume of toxins into the renal system of affected dogs, which causes acute kidney failure that proves fatal in nine out of ten affected dogs.
The high toxicity and fast onset of the condition contributes to its mortality rate – but the sooner that dog owners are able to spot a problem developing and seek veterinary treatment, the better the chances of being able to save the dog in question.
Dogs that are walked through wooded areas and/or muddy areas are thought to be most at risk of picking up the disease, particularly if they drink from natural water sources in those areas. However, one of the reasons why Alabama rot – or to give it its veterinary name, cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy or CRGV – is so hard to pin down is because the vast majority of dogs that pass through areas where an infection has occurred won’t develop the condition themselves.
This indicates that there may be some kind of hereditary or immune-mediated predisposition to the condition in some dogs that makes them particularly vulnerable – although this is yet another unknown. So far, there is no evidence that Alabama rot is contagious between dogs – and even in cases where a dog that lives in close quarters with others has developed the condition, it has not gone on to infect the other members of their pack.
Initially, cases of Alabama rot in the UK appeared to be limited to areas in the south of England – including Hampshire, Berkshire, the New Forest, Dorset, and Cornwall.
However, the condition isn’t just limited to the southern counties, and some of the more recent cases have been observed as far north as Manchester and County Durham. Cases have also been recorded in Wales.
Wherever you are in the country, it is important to be vigilant of the risk of Alabama rot – and know how to identify the symptoms.
The reason why most dogs that are infected with Alabama rot die is because the condition causes kidney failure – but before kidney failure develops, the condition causes the development of skin lesions, which is the main symptom that dog owners should be on the lookout for.
If veterinary intervention takes place at the first sign of skin lesions developing but before the kidneys have become compromised, affected dogs have a much better chance of survival, which makes prompt intervention essential.
The skin lesions that are the signature of the condition look a lot like ulcers, but may begin as raised swellings that appear to irritate dogs to the point that they lick and chew at them until the area becomes bald. The lesions tend to be circular in shape, and most often develop on the lower half of the dog’s legs, but they can also appear on the face and stomach.
You are highly unlikely to know if you have walked with your dog through an area where Alabama rot is known to be present, unless another case has been diagnosed in your area – and the first signs of the lesions can take anything up to about 10 days to develop. Affected dogs may also display other symptoms such as lethargy, appetite loss and potentially, vomiting.
If you have spotted any strange legions on your dog or noticed that your dog is chewing or licking their skin excessively, it is important to speak to your vet as a matter of urgency to get them to check it out – you may be saving your dog’s life.