News on the Cause of Alabama Rot

What causes this nasty disease in dogs is still unknown, but recent research into it looks promising.

Mud and cold weather are both risk factors when it comes to Alabama Rot. By: Felix_Broennimann

Why would a vet test a healthy dog’s kidneys twice in 3 days?

This is currently the only way of detecting if a dog is at risk of Alabama Rot. This serious condition means a headache (and heartache) from start to finish, because there is no vaccine and no test, the early signs are vague, and yet prompt treatment could be life-saving.

When Alabama Rot is spotted early, aggressive supportive care gives the dog the best chance of recovery. With around 85% of cases not surviving, we need the odds tipping in our favor any way we can. Hence why, one Saturday morning, Elsa came in for a second blood test.

A Possible Case of Alabama Rot

Last week, Elsa the Labrador had been for a walk in muddy woodland. The following day, her human noticed an ulcerated sore patch on the top of her paw. The person had no idea how Elsa had hurt herself, and the area was slowly getting bigger.

Alabama Rot is rare but tricky, not least because the early symptoms are vague. Indeed, it’s not possible to tell an innocent skin sore, ulcer or scrape from the early signs of this serious condition. Elsa’s person, being well-informed, was aware of this and eager to do everything possible to check out her dog.

In clinic, the sore paw looked just that: a small patch of hair loss with inflamed skin and a sticky discharge. It was also quite itchy, causing Elsa to lick at every opportunity.

Alabama Rot lesions tend to be itchy (and painful), so there was little reassurance on the physical exam. Neither did the history of recent contact with mud during the winter ease our minds, with both mud and cold weather being known risk factors.

What to do? Test Elsa’s kidney function.

The Current “Best Test”

When the cause of Alabama Rot remains a mystery, there is no diagnostic test. What we do know is that Alabama Rot (more correctly called cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy, or CRGV) damages the kidneys.

The pattern of disease is that it starts with skin ulcers or sores, and then micro-blood clots lodge in the kidney, like a blocked garbage disposal unit, to stop them from working. This progression from normal kidneys to failure can take 1–9 days, with an average being 4 days.

Hence, the first day the dog is seen in clinic, we take a reference blood sample and repeat the test a few days later. Comparing the 2 results can tell us if the kidneys are completely normal or starting to struggle. If the second lot of test results are worse than the first, this flags Alabama Rot as a possibility.

One major symptom of Alabama Rot is sore spots that dogs lick. By: isakarakus

The Signs of Alabama Rot

OK, so sore skin is common, especially in active dogs, so what else should you be alert for?

Again, the signs are vague and relate to skin sores and worsening renal function. Be vigilant for the following symptoms:

Skin Sores

  • These are usually below the elbow or mid-thigh, with the muzzle, tongue and belly also being common sites.
  • The sores are painful, and the dog wants to lick them.
  • The lesions are often circular.
  • They range in size from pinpoint to around 10 centimeters in diameter.

Kidney Signs

  • Lack of energy
  • Increased thirst and passing more urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sickness and diarrhea
  • Jaundice
  • Bruising

Treatment of Alabama Rot

The problem is not so much the skin lesions (which can be managed with antibiotics and dressings) but the kidney damage. Current treatment aims to support the kidneys and keep flushing them through with intravenous fluids. Then other medications are added in to help:

  • Reduce nausea
  • Protect against stomach ulcers
  • Flush the kidneys through
  • Control high blood pressure
  • Keep the dog comfortable

Specialist centers are trialing new therapies, such as plasma transfusions, but so far, the benefits are largely unproven.

How much better, then, if we could identify a cause and move forward with targeted therapies?

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Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS

View posts by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, is a veterinarian with nearly 30 years of experience in companion animal practice. Dr. Elliott earned her Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from the University of Glasgow. She was also designated a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Married with 2 grown-up kids, Dr. Elliott has a naughty puggle called Poggle, 3 cats and a bearded dragon.

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