Alabama Rot: Rare dog diseases on the rise in the UK

Labrador

New data indicates that Alabama Rot, a serious disease affecting dogs, may be taking a foothold in the UK and that Lyme disease, a bacterial disease spread by ticks, is on the rise, too. The risk to your dog from either of these remains very low, but it is nonetheless important to understand the symptoms and be able to recognise the warning signs should your pet come into contact with either, potentially life-threatening conditions.

Alabama rot

What is it?

Alabama rot is the common term for cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV). It is a mysterious disease which is hard to identify and sadly, very difficult to treat. Since December 2012, there have been 78 confirmed cases in the UK, including 14 in 2016 so far.

Alabama rot was first identified amongst Grey Hounds in the state of Alabama in the 1980s. After this first flair up, the number of reported cases dwindled and as no clinical research was carried out, the disease was almost relegated to history. Because no one has been able to determine what causes the disease, it is now only recognisable by its collection of clinical symptoms.

Since 2012, a small number of dogs have been presented with clinical signs very similar to those associated with Alabama rot. The most serious outbreak was in the New Forrest region of Hampshire but there have also been reported cases in Manchester, Dorset, Surry, Somerset and several other counties as well.

An unknown cause

As mentioned, the causes of Alabama Rot are still unknown and we don’t yet know if it can pass between dogs, either. What we do know, is that the strain afflicting the UK is not limited to any particular breed, body weight, sex or age, and the disease affects the skin and kidneys.

There has been some speculation that walking dogs in particular areas of the countryside may be a contributing factor, but the Forestry Commission has yet to warn of any specific sites being dangerous, reassuring dog owners by saying “Many thousands of dogs are walked in the countryside every day and it is important to remember that only a very small number of dogs have been affected.”

Worryingly, though, is that once infected, pets can die within 3 days so the severity of the disease must not be underestimated, however rare it is.

How to prevent it

There are no specific steps you can take to prevent your dog from contracting the disease, but there is some evidence of seasonal fluctuation, with most cases appearing between November and June.

It is suspected the disease spreads from muddy and wooded areas – dog owners who do walk their dogs in these places are advised to wash off any mud as soon as possible, and of course, keep close control of their dogs at all times to monitor where they go.

Know the signs and check your dog

Importantly, you should always keep a lookout for the first sign of Alabama Rot, which is skin sores that have not been caused by a physical injury. These sores can present as lesions, swelling, a patch of red skin, or may be open and ulcer-like. The sores are most commonly found below the knee or elbow or occasionally on the stomach or face. Usually, this will cause localised hair loss and the dog will begin licking the wound. These lesions will be followed – between two and seven days later – with outward symptoms of kidney failure: reduced appetite, fatigue, and vomiting.

If you have any concerns you should get your dog to the vet as soon as possible. They will be able to carry out tests to identify kidney failure but you can help by keeping detailed records of any signs of illness your dog has shown, this will help them diagnose your dog’s illness, whatever it may be.

If it turns out your dog has contracted Alabama Rot, the best outcomes seem to be achieved by catching it early and the animal receiving high-quality veterinary care. Whilst some infected dogs do survive the treatments of skin sores and kidney failure, unfortunately, many do not – it is estimated that treatment is only successful in around 20-30% of cases.

It is important, however, not to get overly worried by this as the percentage of dogs in the UK who have contracted this disease is truly minuscule. Though, what is vital, is that you understand the problem and know what to look out for, should your dog come into contact with it, as time plays a large part in successfully treating the disease.

A small but growing risk

Both Lyme disease and Alabama rot affect a very small number of dogs each year, but the number of reported cases is growing. The risks for Lyme disease are mostly between late Spring and Autumn when the tick population is highest, so now is the time to be particularly vigilant. If left untreated, Lyme disease can be a serious and debilitating condition which can cause long term problems.

Alabama Rot is far more difficult to treat than Lyme disease and must be caught early for treatment to be effective. So if you suspect your dog might be suffering from the disease you should take them to a vet immediately.

Finally, for peace of mind ensure that you have good quality insurance that includes cover for illness as well as accidents to cover the potentially expensive treatment.