There’s been a lot in the news recently about Alabama Rot – but do you know what it is? How would you know if your dog was affected? Are you or your family at risk from it? What should you do? In this blog, we’re going to try to answer all your questions!

What is Alabama Rot?

“Alabama Rot” is the common name for a disease technically called Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy, or CRVG for short. It isn’t actually a new disease (it was first diagnosed in the United States in the 1980s), but it only reached the UK in 2012. The condition is actually a disease of the blood vessels, which become inflamed, causing tiny blood clots to form inside. The blood clots then block oxygen from reaching the tissues, resulting in tissue death.

What causes it?

Unfortunately, no-one knows. In America, some researchers have suggested that bacterial toxins from E. coli may be involved, but this has not been confirmed as the cause of the UK form of the disease. In fact, the current thinking is that some dogs may be genetically predisposed to developing the condition, which is then triggered by some environmental factor – but sadly, we do not yet know what this trigger factor is.

What effect does it have on the dog?

Alabama Rot

Confirmed CRGV skin lesion on dog thigh. [a]

Initially, most affected dogs develop small sores or ulcers on the skin. These may initially seem like little wounds, but instead of healing over, they remain open and may grow or spread. In most cases, the legs are affected, but cases have been reported where the body, face or mouth were involved.

In most (but not all) dogs, this then progresses to kidney failure, as the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys are the next to be affected. This usually develops about three days after the initial skin lesions although it may be over a week. The symptoms may include increased thirst, loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy and severe depression; often, there is also reduced urine production as the kidneys shut down.

Other possible symptoms include abnormal bleeding, anaemia and jaundice.

The mortality rate of CRGV is described as being between 80 and 90%, although some studies place it even higher. Most dogs either die or have to be put to sleep within two weeks of diagnosis.

How common is it?

Here’s the good news – it’s a really rare disease. There are roughly eight and a half million dogs in the UK, and there have been less than a hundred confirmed cases since the disease was first identified in 2012.

Unfortunately, the cases are spread out all over the UK, and now even Ireland as well; although there have been no cases yet in Bristol, there are suspected cases reported from Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset and South Wales.

What are the risk factors for developing the disease?

Alabama Rot 2

Confirmed CRGV lesion on dog tongue. [a]

There is no known breed, sex or age predisposition to developing disease. However, there have been reported “clusters” where more than one dog in a household developed symptoms within a month of each other. This suggests exposure to some kind of environmental trigger – but in most cases, dogs in the same household do not develop symptoms.

It is suspected that some particular locations are higher risk; and it may be that presence of wet mud on the skin from these locations is a risk factor, but this is not confirmed.

Is there a risk to me or my family?

No – this condition only seems to affect dogs. There is no evidence that it can affect humans or other animals.

How can I minimise the risk for my dog?

At the moment, we don’t know the cause, so it is impossible to give any scientific advice. In general, however, we would advise avoiding walking dogs in any fields, parks or forests that have been associated with a confirmed case, and washing the mud off your dog’s coat after walking.

If your dog develops any suspicious symptoms, bring them in for us to check – it probably isn’t Alabama Rot, but if it is, we think the survival rate is higher if treatment is started before the dog’s kidneys start to fail.

Learn More:

Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialists have produced this Owner’s Guide and also a Veterinary Guide.

There is a 2015 paper in the Veterinary Record with lots of detail (beware – graphic images).

There is an interactive map on this dog owner’s website showing reported cases.

[a] Source of images Vet Record