After all the media attention in recent years, many of us have heard of Alabama Rot. But what exactly is it, and should we be worried?
In this article, we will cover:
- What is Alabama Rot?
- Where is Alabama Rot found in the UK?
- What is causing Alabama Rot?
- Can Alabama Rot affect cats?
- Symptoms of Alabama Rot
- What to do if you are worried about your dog
- Is Alabama Rot contagious?
- Treatment options available
What is Alabama Rot?
Despite much research, the cause of Alabama Rot remains a bit of a mystery. However, we now know a little bit more about how the disease process works.
The actual name of what we call the “Alabama Rot” in the UK is Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV). The name “Alabama Rot” comes from a similar disease discovered in Greyhounds in Alabama in the US in the 1980s. Unfortunately, CRGV in the UK does not discriminate on breeds of dog, age or weight.
CRGV is also known under the name of the New Forest disease, as some of the first cases reported in the UK were discovered in New Forest, Hampshire. However, the disease is now recognised in 43 counties across the country.
Where is Alabama Rot found in the UK?
In general, we have found that southern UK regions have seen a higher than average proportion of cases.
We have taken data (dated March 2018 to February 2021) reporting the total number of Alabama Rot cases per UK region and divided them by the respective total dog populations in each region.
The South West region has the highest proportion of Alabama Rot cases, with 3.85 dogs affected per every 100,000 dogs. Alabama Rot is 36% more common in the South West as compared to the South East region (2.85 cases per 100,000 dogs).
From 2018 to 2020, the most affected county was Devon (South West) with 10 total confirmed cases. This is closely followed by Greater Manchester (North West) with 8 cases.
*Update February 2022: 2 new cases of Alabama Rot were reported in Surrey and Berkshire.
What is causing Alabama Rot?
Alabama Rot is a serious condition. Although we do not know what initially causes the disease, we now know what it leads to. CRGV causes tiny blood clots to form in the bloodstream, which then lodge in the small blood vessels supplying the skin and the kidneys. With no blood supply, those tissues start to die. This is what leads to the painful red sores visible on the dog’s skin.
The lack of blood also affects the kidneys often within 3 to 4 days, leading to quick and severe injury, which then progresses to renal failure. At that stage, the disease has reached a grave turn and unfortunately the prognosis is very poor, with a mortality rate of 80%.
The disease seems to be more present at certain times of the year: more cases have been confirmed in winter and spring months, between November and May. Another interesting fact is that the disease seems to be related to wet, muddy and woodland areas.
This video below helps to further explain Alabama Rot.
Can Alabama Rot affect cats?
The disease is currently only recognised in dogs. Alabama Rot has not been recorded in other animal species such as cats, or rabbits.
What are the symptoms of Alabama Rot?
CRGV or “Alabama Rot” often presents as skin sores and lesions, often on the lower legs (below elbows and knees) and occasionally on the belly, muzzle, lips and inside the mouth.
These lesions can be early signs of Alabama Rot. They can appear as swollen red patch(es) without physical injury, and often can become itchy and painful. Therefore, your dog might be excessively licking at it, causing further damage by popping the lesion and giving it a very red and raw ulcer-like appearance.
In cases of Alabama Rot, signs of kidney failure often start to appear 3 to 4 days following the sores. However, in some cases dogs can develop kidney failure without having any previous lesions. The signs to look for are decreased or loss of appetite, vomiting, increased drinking, fatigue and depression.
What to do if you are worried about your dog?
Itchy skin lesions on your dog are not always a result of Alabama Rot - this article which talks about whether you should be concerned if your dog starts itching. However, if you remain unsure about a suspicious looking lesion, especially if you dog is looking unwell, it is always recommended to visit your vet to rule out Alabama Rot.
Your vet will be able to advise you on the best course of action and may recommend blood and urine sampling to test for any other potential signs, such as thrombocytopenia (platelet deficiency in the blood, leading to bleeding in tissues, bruising and slower clotting after an injury) and anaemia (low red blood cell or haemoglobin concentration in the blood)
As the disease progress very quickly, prompt action is crucial for a better outcome.
Is Alabama Rot contagious?
There is currently no evidence of the “Alabama Rot” infecting humans through dogs.
Although there have been cases where two dogs from one household showing similar signs, it is not believed to be a disease which can be transmitted from dog to dog. Instead, it seems to be an environmental trigger, not yet identified, that dogs are exposed to during walks.
Multiple dog owners with an affected dog should therefore keep a close eye on their other dogs, by regularly checking the most affected areas (below elbow and knee, muzzle, lips and tongue).
How can I prevent my dogs from getting Alabama Rot?
Due to the unknown cause of the disease, there are currently no proven preventions to avoid contracting the disease.
However, the disease seems to be more prevalent in certain regions, such as Greater Manchester, Dorset, Devon and New Forest in Hampshire. It is therefore important to be vigilant in those “Hotspots”, and if possible, avoiding walks in muddy and woodland areas. You can find cases by postcode here.
Rinsing your dog’s legs after a wet and muddy walk can be a sensible thing to do. However, there is no scientific proof saying it prevents or slows down the disease process.
Since November 2012, there were 241 cases across 42 counties in the UK. The number of cases and the affected regions seem have increased since the first case in 2012. However, this could be due to an increased awareness of the disease and better identification and tracking methods.
Although the CRGV Alabama Rot is an emerging disease which is becoming widely recognised, it remains a rare condition. With 10.1 million dogs in the UK in 2020, there is approximately 0.0004% chance of your dog being one of them, which is roughly 1 in 270 270 dogs.
It is important to not worry too much. What truly matters is awareness and vigilance. In doubt it is always safer to not ignore the signs and to immediately contact your vet. The sooner the disease is identified the sooner the treatment can be started giving your dog a better chance of survival.
What treatment options are available for Alabama Rot?
It is currently difficult to treat this disease as the cause remains unknown. Often the treatment is supportive, such as fluids and transfusions when possible, but unfortunately it is only successful in 20% of cases.
However, the Royal Veterinary College in London has started a treatment called plasmapheresis, which involves filtration of blood from proteins and toxins, before returning it back to the dog’s body. A plasma transfusion is then made to increase the chances and rate of recovery. This treatment has been fully successful on 2 dogs out of 6 that were treated, allowing them to make a full recovery from CRGV Alabama Rot.
Although this treatment requires full expertise and constant monitoring of the patient, it is a new hope for dogs diagnosed with this very fatal disease.
But again, it is important to remember how rare Alabama Rot is and that vigilance and monitoring is crucial.
Are you worried about Alabama Rot? Are there things you do to protect your dog from Alabama Rot? Let us know in the comments below.