Alabama Rot – what is it?

The autumn and winter are a risk time for Alabama Rot, or more properly CRGV, although there were still some cases being picked up in the summer. In this blog, we’re going to look at this mysterious disease in a little more detail.

What’s with the name?

Strictly speaking, Alabama Rot was a condition of racing greyhounds in the USA in the 1980s, and was linked to contaminated feed. However, you will commonly hear people using the term to refer to a modern disease in the UK. Technically, the condition being diagnosed in Britain at the moment is Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy, or CRGV. However, because “Alabama Rot” sounds scary, it sells more newspapers and hence it’s the name the media have chosen! As a result, that’s what most people call it.

But what actually is it?

It’s a disease that causes blood clots to form in the small blood vessels – typically in the skin and in the kidneys. These clots prevent blood from flowing to the local tissues, so they become starved of oxygen and die, resulting in symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

The first symptoms are ulcers – non-healing wounds that open up without injury. They usually affect the lower legs, but occasionally are seen on the underside of the belly, on the muzzle, or even in the mouth. They can easily look like scrapes or cuts. In the more severe cases, within 7-10 days, the kidneys start to fail, resulting in lethargy, reduced urine production, dehydration, vomiting, a metallic smell on the breath, collapse, and ultimately – in all too many cases – death. This is technically termed “acute kidney injury”, or AKI.

What is the treatment?

The key to treatment is early diagnosis, and then supportive care to help maintain kidney function. This is typically with hospitalisation and aggressive intravenous fluid therapy, keeping affected animals on a drip and managing their symptoms. However, sadly, in many cases kidney failure develops, and often it is so rapid, as to be untreatable, and many of these dogs are put to sleep to prevent further suffering.

What causes it?

No-one knows. Similar conditions are seen with some bacterial infections (e.g. some types of toxic E. coli), but if so, the bacterial cause has not yet been discovered. It has been suggested that a fish bacterium (Aeromonas hydrophila) might be responsible, but this has not been confirmed. Other possibilities that have been raised include food contamination, viral infections, or even a toxin in the environment, but so far there’s no evidence for these.

How can it be prevented?

Again – as we don’t know the cause, we don’t know! Initially, some people were recommending bathing those parts of your dog which become wet or muddy on a walk, but although this will help you detect the ulcers early, we have no evidence to suggest that it would prevent the disease. Some people are also avoiding walking their dogs in certain areas – but although an environmental cause has been suggested, there is no firm evidence as yet that particular areas are transmitting the disease, and most of the dogs affected have walked in areas where hundreds of others go, without the others being affected.

What animals are at risk?

Potentially any dog could develop the condition. That said, if one dog in a household is affected, others seem to be at higher risk – but once more, we do not know why. Fortunately, the disease cannot jump the species barrier, and there have been no reports of cases in humans, cats or other animals.

Should I be worried?

Not unduly so, no. Although CRGV is a very unpleasant disease, from the start of the “outbreak” in 2012 to January this year, there were only 122 confirmed cases – despite there being about 9 million dogs in the UK! It’s a really rare condition, and not something to panic about – especially when we compare it to infectious diseases like Parvo, degenerative ones like heart failure, and injury from cars, which kill many thousands of dogs each year.

What should I do?

Check your dog regularly for unexplained redness or sores on the skin. While most of these won’t be CRGV (again, we’d like to emphasise that it’s really rare!), they are potentially a warning flag. Early diagnosis gives the maximum chance for a successful outcome, so be vigilant, but do not be afraid!

If you find any suspicious lesions, or you’re at all concerned about your dog’s health, do give us a ring for advice!