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?
Actually, despite much research, the cause of Alabama Rot is still a bit of a mystery, but we now know a little bit more about how the disease process works.
The correct name for the disease is actually Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV), but as this is rather a mouthful, many people refer to it as Alabama Rot as it resembles a disease which occurred in the USA in the 1980s affecting Greyhounds.
Some people also call it New Forest disease as some of the first cases recognised in the UK occurred in the New Forest area – however, it has now been recognised across most of the country.
Alabama rot is a serious condition.
The disease causes tiny blood clots to form in the bloodstream which then lodge in the small blood vessels supplying the skin and the kidneys. This affects the surrounding tissues – when it occurs in the skin, a lesion develops which has the appearance of a raw ulcer; when it occurs in the kidneys, kidney failure develops.
As of yet, the disease has only been recognised in dogs. There may be a seasonal influence to the disease, as a higher proportion of confirmed cases have occurred between the months of November and May.
So, what should we look out for?
Often, the first presenting sign is a wound or sore of unknown cause, usually on a leg or lower part of the body, but sometimes on the face or inside the mouth. Your dog may be licking at the wound or sore if he or she can reach it, and it usually looks very red and raw.
In the following days, your dog might become unwell: he or she might start drinking more water, have a change in appetite, become lethargic or develop vomiting and diarrhoea.
What should we do if we are worried about our dog?
If you find a suspicious looking lesion on your dog and are unsure what might have caused it, then it is always best to consult your vet as soon as possible, especially if your dog is also showing signs of being unwell.
Your vet will be able to advise you on the best course of action and may advise taking a blood sample and a urine sample from your dog to test.
This disease can progress very quickly, so prompt action is always advisable.
What can we do to protect our dog?
Unfortunately, this is a very difficult question to answer as we still don't know what causes the disease.
Where cases have occurred, some people understandably avoid walking their dogs in the same area, but despite research, an environmental cause has not currently been proven.
Bathing your dog after a wet or muddy walk could be considered, but again, it is unknown if this is really of any benefit.
Whilst research into the disease is ongoing, it is advisable to avoid walking in areas with confirmed cases.
You can find cases by postcode here.
Should we be worried?
"There is only a 1 in 151,785 chance of your dog contracting Alabama Rot"
The actual number of dogs that have been affected by this disease is very small.
Between November 2012 and May 2015, 56 dogs were confirmed with Alabama Rot in the UK (*).
To put this into context, there were an estimated 8.5 million dogs living in the UK in 2015, giving a 1 in 151,785 chance of your dog being one of those affected.
However, this may be an emerging disease as it becomes more widely recognised and therefore it is understandable to be worried. Should you have any concerns about your dog, do not ignore them - seek veterinary advice immediately as the sooner treatment is started, the better the chance of survival.