We’ve just had another suspected case down here in Cornwall, the first since early 2015 (which was down near Penzance). As a result, we really want to raise awareness among our clients about this dangerous, but still very rare, disease.
What is Alabama Rot?
The condition is technically known as Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy, or CRGV, because it causes damage to the blood vessels (“vasculopathy”) in the skin (“cutaneous”) and kidneys (“renal glomerular”). This damage to blood vessels results in localised inflammation and the formation of blood clots inside the tiny capillaries supplying the area, starving the tissues of oxygen. In the skin, this causes non-healing ulcers; in the kidneys, it can cause acute kidney failure.
It is widely known as “Alabama Rot”, after it’s initial appearance in the USA; however, there have been confirmed cases from several countries, and since 2012, we have been seeing it sporadically in the UK. Initially, it seemed to be confined to the New Forest, but we now know it is present across the UK.
What causes it?
No-one knows. Despite five years of research, the definitive cause has not been identified. The current best guess is that it is an unusual bacterial toxin – but it doesn’t seem to be associated with drug-resistant bacteria (for example) or contaminated foodstuffs. As a result, the suspicion is that there is an (as yet unidentified) bacterial strain that is present in some places that occasionally causes the problem – but this is NOT confirmed.
What dogs are at risk?
Although many of the early cases were Greyhounds, we now think that Alabama Rot can affect any dog, of any breed, sex, size or age. However, 90% of confirmed cases have occurred in the winter or spring, so we are now coming into the higher-risk period.
What are the symptoms?
The initial symptoms are usually open wounds or ulcers; these often appear superficial and minor, but can be the early signs of Alabama Rot. These ulcers typically affect the limbs. Later, if the kidneys become affected (and only IF, it doesn’t always occur), dogs develop increased thirst and urination, then may stop urinating, start to vomit, develop a “metallic” smelling breath, collapse, suffer seizures and can ultimately die.
Of course, the vast majority of dogs with a scratch on their legs do NOT have Alabama Rot, but it’s still worth getting them checked over!
How is it diagnosed?
Strictly speaking, Alabama Rot can only be diagnosed by a biopsy – a small sample of affected skin and kidney is sent to a specialist laboratory and examined. However, a “suspected” diagnosis can usually be made by our vets based on the clinical examination and blood results.
Can it be treated?
As we do not know the cause, we cannot treat it directly! However, supportive care, and especially high-dose intravenous fluids and kidney-support, can make a significant difference to the outcome. Other supportive treatments (such as antibiotics and painkillers) may also be required, and will be prescribed as needed.
How do I minimise the risk?
We need to remember that there have only ever been 2 cases in Cornwall, and only about 100 cases nationwide – so this is NOT an epidemic, nor is it an issue we should be panicking about.
However, caution is wise, and Anderson Moores Specialists (the veterinary experts in this condition) recommend washing the legs and belly of dogs if they become muddy after a walk, as this MAY reduce the risk. It has been suggested that it may also be worth avoiding areas where dogs that became affected were known to frequent; however, this is not necessarily practical, and has not been demonstrated to be effective.