This year mystery disease 'Alabama Rot' has already claimed the lives of 15 dogs across the UK. Understandably there is currently much being reported in the mainstream press as well as across social media about this potentially deadly but rare condition. So here's some information for dog owners to help identify what to look for, as well as what you should do, if you suspected your pet has become a victim of Alabama Rot.
Alabama Rot or Idiopathic Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV) to give it its posh name, is a very aggressive, often fatal condition in dogs, first identified in the USA in the 1980s. The disease works by causing damage to blood vessels in a dog's skin and kidneys. As a result tiny blood clots form blocking these tiny blood vessels, often leading to damaged tissues. In the skin, this causes lesions that can resemble bites, sores, wounds or stings; however when dogs develop these clots in their kidneys it can lead to severe organ dysfunction, and ultimately, irreversible kidney failure.
With no official known cause of the disease it's thought that toxins produced by certain bacteria may play a major part in the development of Alabama Rot's initial symptoms of skin lesions, ulcers, sores or bite marks on the legs, as well as on the dog's chest and abdomen. Other common clinical signs reported are lethargy or a general loss of energy, loss of appetite and reluctance to eat, and jaundice (yellowish discolouration of the dog's eyes, gums or nostrils). Less common symptoms, often at later stages of the disease, have also reportedly involved vomiting or gagging, with kidney failure occurring in a minority of cases. With most diagnosed cases involving skin lesions forming on the body, then within one to nine days of these lesions appearing kidney shutdown often follows, which ultimately can lead to death.
Although first noted in greyhounds in the States, UK outbreaks are identified as having the same or similar cause as Alabama Rot, with a wide range of breeds of all ages, sexes and weights affected. In the last few years the disease has continued to spread across England, with no clear geographical region or county apparently related to primary disease outbreak. Over the last three years more Alabama Rot cases appear to have been detected between November and May than between June and October, suggesting a possible winter and spring seasonality.
With no exact cause known, this is of course hugely frustrating for scientists, vets, and dog-owners alike. However, water and/or food related causes such as bad water or food that would make the dog sick, seem to have successfully been ruled out. And with many surveys, investigations, and questionnaires to aid research into the cause being circulated right now, veterinary experts are even meeting this week at a specialist conference to try and discover the root cause of the disease as well as any possible cure.
A comprehensive report on Alabama Rot was published in March 2015 by the British Veterinary Association, concluding that it is a disease of unknown cause "carrying a poor prognosis [outlook] when azotaemia [abnormally high levels of nitrogen-containing compounds in the blood] develops". And with current opinion amongst academics appearing divided between the disease being caused by a bacteria, parasite, genetic predisposition, and/or environmental trigger, it stands to reason that as the exact cause has not been found, developing a vaccine is problematic; and while no vaccination has yet been found, some dogs appear to be able to fight off the disease, and with a significant amount of UK cases of Alabama Rot successfully treated since 2013, victims appear to be able to live with minimal damage.
Tragically, however it's not uncommon for victims of this disease to eventually die, so with targeted treatment limited the most vets can do is provide antibiotics and pain relief for lesions, and intensive care and hospitalisation for symptoms of kidney failure. Most importantly if you suspect your dog is showing any signs, then please don't ignore them and contact your vet immediately as the earlier treatment can start, the better your dog's chances are of making a recovery.