Alabama Rot, should we be worried?
It is important not to panic when thinking about Alabama Rot which is sometimes referred to as ‘Black Death’ disease, the official name is Cutaneous and Renal Vasculopathy (CRGV).
2017 has been the worst year in the UK for the deadly disease, however, it is essential to remember there have still only been 100 confirmed cases since 2012, when it reared its ugly head again, more dogs have died over this time due to flea infestation related anaemia. Take into consideration that there are around 8.5 million dogs in the UK; it is a very small percentage that have had Alabama Rot. However, it is better armed with knowledge. So far this year, we are faced with two new incidences in North Devon and North Yorkshire. Since 2012, there have been 7 confirmed cases within a 20 mile radius of Northowram Halifax, the worst hit local area appears to be over Manchester way, so if you are heading out for a walk, avoid going west!
Alabama Rot causes tiny clots to form in dogs’ blood vessels in their skin and kidneys. These clots can cause:
ulcers and sores on the dog’s paws, legs, face or mouth
Symptoms of kidney failure include:
not wanting to eat
lethargy (sleepiness and having much less energy than usual).
Where did Alabama Rot come from?
The disease was first identified in the 1980s in the USA in Greyhounds. It appeared and as quickly disappeared, with very little clinical research being carried out to identify its cause.
The first suspected cases of the disease in the UK were in 2012, since then there have been around 100 confirmed cases with more unconfirmed cases. When considering these statistics, do remember that this is still a minute change that this is the likely cause of your dog’s death.
Statistically, the most likely way a dog will die of an accidental death is poisoning, followed by drowning, and there is an extremely low chance of wither of these happening. I know personally one dog that has drowned and one dog that has died of possible poisoning and I have known thousands of dogs in my life.
What are the first symptoms of Alabama Rot?
The first signs you may notice if your dog has contracted Alabama Rot are lesions or ulcers on the skin. These may appear as a patch of red skin or as an open sore. The sores are most commonly found on a dogs paws or lower legs, but can be found elsewhere on their body. Hair loss may be evident and you may notice them licking the area.
On average, dogs suffer kidney failure around 3 days after the sores begin to show on the skin, however, the time may be from 1 to 10 days. You may notice vague, more generalised signs of illness, such as loss of appetite and vomiting after 2-7 days as your dog succumbs to kidney failure. This happens as the disease causes tiny clots to form in the blood vessels, leading to ulceration in the skin and severe organ dysfunction in the kidneys.
How is the disease spread?
Very little is known about the cause and origins of Alabama Rot, although recent research suggests it is a rare form of E.coli that may be spread through water. What we do know is how it affects the body; technically speaking, Alabama Rot is a form of thrombotic microangiopathy, a condition that blocks off blood supply to tissue and organs.
There is some speculation that walking dogs in muddy, woodland areas poses more of a threat, as these were the areas visited by all affected dogs before showing symptoms. Despite this, the Forestry Commission has yet to highlight any specific areas as danger zones, as millions of dogs are walked every day in muddy, woodland areas, without contracting the potentially fatal disease.
That said, there is strong evidence that the disease has an environmental trigger and that whatever causes it is ingested orally.
How do I protect my dog?
Unfortunately, there is no known current cure for Alabama Rot, although, if caught early enough, there is some hope for eventual recovery.
Time is of the essence with this disease, so if you are at all concerned about your dog, contact your vet as soon as possible. Pay close attention to your dog’s skin immediately after walking and make sure they are adequately wiped down or fully bathed if heavily covered in mud.
Of course, the spread of Alabama Rot is very worrying, but it is important not to panic. The number of dogs affected, while it may seem high, is comparatively small in relation to the number of dogs that are walked every day in the UK. As the occurrence of disease is far-reaching and has had a presence in many counties up and down the country, there is no real evidence to suggest any areas are more at risk than others, so remain vigilant but don’t let anxiety prevent you from walking your dog.
Last year, Alabama Rot was reported up and down the UK, in counties from Cornwall to Hampshire, and as far north as Greater Manchester. Unfortunately, the disease largely remains a mystery and is notoriously difficult to treat, with a tragically high death rate of 80-90%.
Is there any hope?
Until recently, there have been no ideas as to where Alabama rot has come from, but vet Fiona Macdonald suggests there may be a link between Alabama rot and bacteria found in fish that causes similar symptoms. Dr Macdonald, from Ringwood in Hampshire’s New Forest, where many of the deaths have occurred, runs a fish treatment centre which develops and supplies professional medicines for fish, said: ‘A friend of mine’s dog was one of the first cases to contract Alabama Rot and a neighbour of mine is a microbiologist so he and I decided to put out heads together and we thought it could not be a poison. We realised it didn’t affect other animals, so we thought it might be a disease that specifically targets dogs. So I went onto Google and found a paper written in 1995 linking an organism which causes kidney failure in dogs. The organism, Aeromonas hydrophila….infects the animal and causes toxins to enter the body which can kill….This organism can be found in fresh or brackish water, common bodies of water found near popular dog paths…. My theory is that the organism infects the dog’s skin and then the toxins travel to the dog’s kidneys, causing failure.” With funding from the New Forest Dog Owners Group, Dr Macdonald has tested 27 dogs suffering from symptoms of the bacteria but has said many more tests need to be done.