What is Alabama Rot?

It is often associated with sudden onset kidney failure but the cause of the disease remains unknown. It is sometimes called Alabama rot after a disease first recognised in Greyhounds in Alabama, USA in the 1980s; CRGV (cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy ) bears a number of similarities to Alabama rot. CRGV has received a lot of media attention recently so you may have heard or read about it over the past few years.  

When and where have cases been confirmed in the UK?

There appears to be a seasonal distribution, with most cases being identified between November and May. On this basis, it is possible there is an environmental trigger; however, this is unlikely to be the full story and it is possible that certain dogs are predisposed to developing the disease. If you would like to see if any cases have been confirmed near where you live, this information is available online.

Over the past three years, there have been proportionately more cases in the winter and spring months than summer and autumn.  The most serious outbreak was in the New Forest region of Hampshire, although this may partly be down to high awareness of the disease among local vets. There have also been cases elsewhere, including Greater Manchester, Merseyside, West Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, County Durham, southern Scotland and Northern Ireland. The map on this page pinpoints where those cases have been reported.

Although concerning, it is important to stress that this disease remains rare. If your pet has a skin sore then it is likely that this has another cause (such as an injury or infection). In the event your dog has/develops kidney failure, then there are many more common causes than CRGV.

Dogs suspected to be suffering from CRGV need intensive management at your local veterinary practice or a referral centre. Unfortunately, a large number of dogs that develop kidney failure from this disease do not survive; however, there are a number of suspected survivors (remembering the disease can only be confirmed on kidney tissue analysis, hence the use of the term suspected) and the outlook is not hopeless.

Currently the disease can only be definitively diagnosed after death by looking at kidney tissue under the microscope, although your vet can have a high index of suspicion for the disease on the basis of the skin lesions and some blood test changes.

How do dogs catch Alabama rot?

The cause of Alabama rot is not yet known. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest it could be picked up by pets drinking in the outdoors, although this has not been proven. It’s also suspected the disease spreads from muddy and wooded areas as many of its victims were diagnosed after being walked in woods. Vets “strongly suspect” there is an environmental trigger — possibly a toxin in the mud dogs are absorbing. One theory is a bacteria called Aeromonas hydrophila, which affects fish, is to blame. Studies into this are ongoing. But what’s confusing vets is hundreds of dogs walk in the same areas of countryside every day, and only a tiny number have been affected by the dog disease. This could mean those dogs have some intrinsic predisposition it.

What are the chances of my dog catching Alabama rot?

Thankfully, very slim. There are 8.5 million dogs in the UK and only a few hundred have been diagnosed with the disease. That works out at less than 0.002% of the dog population.

What are the signs?

In affected dogs, skin sores typically appear an average of three days before the development of kidney failure; although in some dogs, kidney failure can occur up to ten days later. The signs of kidney failure can include tiredness, not eating, vomiting and a change in drinking. Although the sores are most often on the legs, they can sometimes be seen on the body or face. Some dogs only get skin sores/lesions without ever getting blood test changes.

A range of breeds have been identified with CRGV in the UK and some of the more commonly affected breeds include the English Springer Spaniel, Labrador Retriever and Hungarian Vizsla. There does not appear to be a particular age or sex of dog that is more likely to develop the disease.

Is there a cure for Alabama rot?

The good news is some dogs with suspected Alabama rot have survived. But the difficulty is vets can only provide 100% confirmation of the disease through analysis of kidney tissue. This is typically obtained after the animal has died. At the moment the disease cannot be diagnosed using blood tests or even analysis of skin lesion samples, so it’s very difficult for vets to know for certain whether a surviving pet actually had the disease. What we do know is around 80-85% of dogs who contract suspected Alabama rot and go on to develop kidney injury do not survive and the average time for dying is just seven days.

If your dog develops skin lesions your vet will decide whether the area needs covering and whether antibiotics are appropriate. However, time is of the essence and by far the best chance of success is early, aggressive veterinary treatment.

Is there anything we can do to prevent it?

Given the cause is unknown, it is hard to give any preventative advice that has any scientific research to support it. Some people have suggested washing dogs after a walk.

If you see an unexplained skin sore on your dog then the first thing to do is take your dog to your veterinary practice. Remember, the disease is rare and the sore/lesion is unlikely to be the result of CRGV.

Can Alabama rot virus affect humans?

Owners of dogs with the disease have not been affected by the illness and there is no evidence to suggest it can spread between animals and humans. The condition, however, does have some similarities to diseases found in humans and data is being used from those cases to help determine how to treat affected dogs.

Can cats get Alabama rot virus?

The disease has not been seen in any animals other than dogs and there’s no evidence to suggest it poses a risk to other animals, including cats and rabbits.

What next for Alabama rot?

In May 2017, the first-ever Alabama rot conference was held in Reading, Berks. A huge amount of research is also being carried out into its causes. Scientists are looking for infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses and fungi as well as toxins in dogs affected. At the moment there is no vaccine for the disease as the cause has not been established. Once this is the case it’s hoped a vaccine could be developed.