Alabama Rot – a real risk?

The term Alabama rot has appeared a lot in the news and on social media in recent years. Given the deadly nature of the disease it has understandably scared a lot of dog owners, especially as initially UK vets had no idea what it was. Over the last few years research has provided us with more information to understand the disease, allowing us to recognise the signs earlier and hopefully help us be more successful in treating it.

What is it?

The first thing to understand is what we mean by Alabama rot. Alabama rot, also known as idiopathic Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV) is a disease in dogs where tiny blood clots cause damage to the blood vessels of the skin and kidneys. This means dogs can present with a variety of symptoms (see below) but in the most severe cases it results in kidney failure and death. As the name suggests, Alabama rot was originally diagnosed in dogs in the USA back in the 1980s. The disease CRGV was first reported in the UK in 2012 and at first glance seemed to be identical to Alabama rot which is why we adopted the name. However, the cause of Alabama rot in the USA was shown to be toxins from the bacteria E. coli. At present, no cases of CRGV in the UK have a definitive cause and so it is not truly the same as Alabama rot.

Should I be worried?

Since 2012, a total of 176 cases of CRGV have been confirmed in the UK, with the majority of cases being reported in the western and southern parts of England. There have recently been cases confirmed in Portreath (Dec 2018) and Redruth (Jan 2019) as well as others previously in the Cornwall area. The increasing number of cases reported could mean CRGV is becoming more common, but could also mean we are simply getting better at spotting the disease and reporting it. However, despite the increasing number of cases, CRGV is still considered to be extremely rare and should not stop you from walking your dog as normal.

What are the symptoms?

CRGV can present with a variety of symptoms depending on the stage of the disease. The most common things owners can look out for are:

  • Skin lesions:  unexpected sore areas of skin are usually the first symptom and they are typically found on the head, lips/tongue, lower parts of the legs and the underside of the body. Look for red (inflamed) and swollen areas of skin which may have lost some fur and in some cases have ulcerated (open wounds).
  • Kidney failure: not all dogs that get skin lesions will develop kidney failure, but if they do, signs typically start between 1-10 days later. Dogs with kidney failure often become lethargic, have a poor appetite and may vomit.
  • Unfortunately, these symptoms are not just seen with CRGV, they can happen in other diseases as well and so we would need to do tests to determine whether your dog has the disease. These tests would most likely include blood sampling, urine analysis and biopsy of skin lesions. If you are worried or see any of these symptoms please call us and make an appointment immediately so we can assess your dog.

What treatments are available?

At the moment, because we don’t know exactly what causes CRGV, it is extremely difficult to treat. Dogs that present with skin lesions but have normal kidney function should be monitored very closely and we would normally advise fluid therapy along with daily blood and urine tests to watch for early signs of kidney failure.

Patients in kidney failure will usually require intensive care, fluid therapy and medications for their symptoms and we will likely recommend sending your dog to a CRGV specialist for this. Some dogs have been treated successfully with plasmapheresis (kidney dialysis) at the Royal Veterinary College but even with that there is still no guarantee of a good outcome.

Sadly, CRGV dogs with kidney failure have a very guarded prognosis and at present the majority of them die from the disease. However, there have been more successful cases in recent years where dogs have survived, especially when the disease was caught and treated earlier. Due to this we strongly recommend you contact us quickly if your dog is showing any of the signs above.

How can I help protect my dog?

As we already mentioned, CRGV is extremely rare and as we don’t know the cause there are no specific ways to prevent a dog from getting the disease. However, the latest research has shown some similarities which may help.

  1. Nearly 95% of cases reported occurred between November and May, so we would advise being more vigilant about any symptoms during these months.
  2. Although there is no clear correlation that muddy/woodland areas play a role in CRGV, we would recommend washing your dog’s feet after walks. This is partly because you are more likely to spot skin lesions early if you are cleaning the feet daily.
  3. A map showing the locations of confirmed CRGV is available online but it is important to remember that thousands of dogs walk in the same locations each day without getting CRGV. There are no reported dog walks that have an increased risk and so there is no reason to not treat your dog as normal; although we understand some dog owners may want to avoid these locations during the at risk months.

Summary

We hope you’ve found this information on CRGV helpful but please get in touch if you have any questions or concerns. Below we’ve summarised the key facts to make it easier for you to see at a glance. Once again, if you are worried your dog may have symptoms of CRGV please call us straight away.

ALABAMA ROT (CRGV) KEY FACTS:

The cause of CRGV is currently not known and the disease is extremely rare

Most cases occur between November and May

Look for red, swollen, ulcerated skin normally on the head, lips/tongue, lower legs or lower body

Watch for decreased appetite, lethargy or vomiting which may indicate kidney failure

Seek early veterinary attention

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