With the benefit of advanced diagnostics and modern medicine, when a dog becomes ill we expect that pet to at least stand a fighting chance of recovery. What we don’t anticipate is the clinician to feel helpless and say the outlook is grim no matter what they do.
That’s pretty much the case with Alabama rot. Although the condition first reared its ugly head in racing greyhounds in the United States in the 1980s, more recently it has been making news in the United Kingdom.
In 2012, reports of dogs falling seriously ill after walking in the New Forest in England alarmed dog walkers, and since then a steady trickle of cases has fueled the worry. Sadly, most dogs die from kidney injury, and with this serious condition it seems there are more unknowns than verified information.
The first sign of Alabama rot is a skin lesion usually on the lower limb, but occasionally on the belly, tongue or muzzle. These patches are generally not serious and resemble common skin infections.
Two to 7 days after the skin signs develop, the dog becomes ill. He may be lethargic, go off his food or vomit. From there the dog rapidly deteriorates because of kidney damage. Unfortunately, most dogs die despite best attempts at treatment.
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The cause is suspected to be a toxin produced by a bacteria. Tests to date have ruled out E. coli, and now the investigation is focused on a bacteria called aeruginosa, but no conclusion has been reached.
Part of the problem is that the toxin can be long gone by the time the dog becomes ill. A bit like a hit-and-run victim, the dog is seriously injured but there’s no evidence to say what the vehicle’s license plate was.
Again, this is another problem area. Definitive diagnosis is made on kidney biopsy, but by then the damage is already done. Sadly, for the dog with skin sores on the lower limb, there is no test right now to predict whether or not this is caused by Alabama rot.
Despite all the hype, cases are few and far between. If there is an explanation for the patches, such as a cut or scrape, then the chances that this is Alabama rot are slim.
If the skin infection has no obvious cause and you are worried, speak with your vet. She may suggest getting a baseline blood test to look at your dog’s kidney function. If the skin lesions get worse over the next 24–48 hours, then a repeat blood sample can show whether or not the kidneys are damaged . If the results have worsened, starting intravenous fluids to support the kidneys is the dog’s best option.
The skin sores don’t usually require anything other than antibiotics and cleaning. It’s the kidneys that are the big issue. Unfortunately, the injured kidneys tend to deteriorate quickly despite intensive care.
The one glimmer of hope seems to be a single (unconfirmed) case treated at the RVC, London, with a technique called plasma phoresis. The dog recovered.
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What We Know
Places to watch for further information include the website of Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialist in the New Forest. They have seen the majority of first-opinion cases and a veterinarian, David Walker, plays a key role in coordinating information. In addition, the Forestry Commission’s website posts regular updates about the location of known cases to keep dog walkers informed.
And finally, although Alabama rot is indeed a serious condition, we shouldn’t forgot that it is rare. The number of confirmed cases is 56 — which, considering the size of the dog population, makes being hit by a car statistically much more likely than acquiring this condition.
Scientists would prefer we call this condition idiopathic cutaneous renal glomerulo vasculopathy. However, this is a mouthful. As a compromise, researchers call it Alabama rot–like syndrome.
- RCVS: CPD Information by Dr. Rosanne Jepson
- Anderson Moores (June 2015)
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed June 19, 2015.