Alabama Rot in the UK: Facts, Stats, and the Future

alabama rot blog post header image

The mere mention of Alabama Rot gives dog owners the chills.

This mysterious skin rotting disease with a high mortality rate has been baffling vets and worrying dog owners since the UK’s first case, diagnosed in November 2012. Whilst the cause of this illness remains unknown, at last there is hope for the future as science starts to catch up with this deadly disease.

What is Alabama Rot?

Vets hate the term ‘Alabama Rot’ because it’s so unscientific and emotive. They prefer the more descriptive Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV), but this lacks ‘Wow’ factor.

However, what CRGV does is describe how this disease attacks the body by forming tiny blood clots in the skin and kidneys.

CRGV Decoded is:

  • Cutaneous: relating to the skin
  • Renal glomerular: relating to the kidneys
  • Vasculopathy: Pathology of the blood vessels

“CRGV is a disease caused by damage to blood vessels of the skin and kidney. It causes tiny blood clots to form in the blood vessels which blocks them and can ultimately lead to damage of the affected tissue.” Anderson Moores’ factsheet.

Part of the problem is that the trigger factor or infectious agent remains unidentified. This leaves vets on the back-foot, treating the symptoms rather than the cause. But research is ongoing and things are moving forward, as you will shortly learn.

What this means in real terms is you face an unseen enemy that causes sudden onset skin sores and renal failure in dogs, which vets seem powerless to cure.

Alabama Rot Statistics

OK, we may not know what causes Alabama rot, but let’s take a look at what we do know.

  • 121 confirmed cases in the UK since Nov 2012: Although a serious condition, it is rare and an uncommon cause of fatality
  • Most cases occur in winter and spring: With 52% of cases occurring in winter and 40% in spring, this is a highly seasonal disease
  • Infection is not transmissible: There have been NO cases where one dog has infected another. Nor does Alabama rot infect other species.
  • Only 25% of dogs with skin lesions go on to develop kidney failure.
  • Sadly, the mortality rate for dogs that progress to kidney disease is 90%
  • Intensive care at an Alabama Rot veterinary specialist reduces the mortality rate to 75%

Alabama Rot Symptoms in Dogs

What does Alabama Rot look like?

The first signs occur on average three days after infection. These tend to be skin related, but can include lack of energy, poor appetite, and vomiting.

In a nutshell the signs are:

  • Sores on the dog’s legs: These sores have a central ulcer with a rim of angry, red skin around them. They occur most commonly on:
    • The lower leg
    • Paws
    • Muzzle
    • Tongue
    • Underside of the body

These skin sores are painful causing the dog to lick repeatedly.

  • Lethargy and stiffness
  • Lack of appetite and vomiting: This is related to nausea and the beginnings of kidney disease.

WARNING: Images of Alabama Rot (skin rotting) in Dogs

alabama rot tongue lesions

alabama rot in a dog paw

Image source: Newton Vets

alabama skin rot in a dog leg

Image source: Vetcare

Bear in mind that these signs are vague and there are many other dog illnesses with similar symptoms, but if you become worried your dog has Alabama Rot get your dog checked sooner rather than later.

Alabama rot used to be localised to the south coast and New Forest area of England, but now cases have been reported countrywide. To check for cases in your area take a look at the map below.

If you click on the filter element   map-of-alabama-rot-in-uk-dogs   you can classify cases by different circumstances, e.g. suspected cases, confirmed cases.

Causes of Alabama Rot

So far research has eliminated the following as the cause of Alabama Rot.

  • E.coli
  • Leptospirosis
  • Giant hogweed
  • Military ordinance
  • Radioactivity
  • Lyme’s Disease

However, one organism that is testing positive in cases of Alabama Rot is Aeromonas hydrophila. This bacterium is associated with disease in fish and amphibians and loves fresh or brackish water, which could account for a high incidence of cases in dogs exercised in marshy or damp woodland.

“Since this is such a new syndrome we are trying to build up a picture to see if …it is more widespread than first thought, but only affecting some dogs.” Dr. Fiona MacDonald

Diagnosis of Alabama Rot

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that diagnosing this disease is tricky. A definitive diagnosis is made by biopsy, with affected tissue being examined for the presence of micro-blood clots. At the moment there is no definitive test, because the cause is not known. However, vets that are suspicious of Alabama rot may take the following steps.

  • Swab the skin ulcer: To test for the presence of Aeromonas. However, this bacterium is easily destroyed and tests may be negative if the wound has already been cleaned
  • Blood test for Aeromonas: The presence of antibodies to Aeromonas in blood means the dog has been exposed to this bacterium. At present, this test if performed in research phase to build up the bigger picture
  • Kidney blood test: A new blood test called SDMA can pick up the earliest stages of kidney damage. If the result hints at early disease, a repeat sample 24 – 48 hours later to look for a further increase can prove conclusive.

Alabama Rot Treatments

The skin lesions often respond well to antibiotics with 75% of these dogs making a full recovery. This leaves 25% that develop serious kidney complications. There is no ‘cure’ and therapy aims to support organ function whilst giving the dog’s immune system a chance to rally.

Typically this means intensive care plus:

  • Intravenous fluids
  • Anti-emetics
  • Antacids
  • Antibiotics
  • Pain relief

Alabama Rot Prevention

It is difficult to fight an unseen enemy.

Cases seem linked to brackish water or mud, especially after heavy rainfall. It therefore seems a wise precaution to wash your dog’s legs after walking in muddy woodland.

Apart from that, if your dog develops skin sores or seems off-colour with 10 days of walking in woodland (signs usually develop after 3 days, but can range from the same day to ten days later) consult your vet.

Alabama Rot Veterinary Specialists

Cases of Alabama Rot are often referred to specialist centres for intensive care. Of these, Anderson Moores are the leading Alabama Rot veterinary specialist within the UK. They are spearheading research into the condition and are a hub to which all UK cases are reported.

Other research projects are also happening with The Alabama Rot Research Fund currently trying to raise £240,000 to fund a PhD candidate and other research into the condition.

How concerned are you about this condition? Do you live in an Alabama rot hotspot? Do leave a comment and share your thoughts with the Doggy Dream Team community.

 

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