To reassure any of you with mud-loving dogs, we talked to pet health experts to find out how to take precautions.
Keeping dogs healthy, taking them for regular trips to the vets, and having pet insurance in case of an emergency will give owners peace of mind, but how else can you protect against Alabama Rot.
Journalist Rachel Spencer (@ThePawPostUk) talks to David Walker, head of medicine at Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialists (@VetSpecialists), who is leading UK research into the disease, and Caroline Allen, veterinary director for the RSPCA, (@RSPCA_official) to find out exactly what owners need to know.
Cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy or CRGV is commonly referred to as Alabama Rot. The disease was first recognised in America in the 1980s and 1990s, exclusively in greyhounds, causing skin lesions and sores that, in some cases, led to kidney failure.
In 2012, vets identified similar cases in the UK.
‘What was interesting was that it wasn’t just greyhounds,’ David says. ‘There was a huge range of dogs or different breeds, body weight and sexes.’
Both David and Caroline stress that the cause remains unknown.
‘There’s speculation there may well be an environmental trigger, so increased rainfall and wetter conditions seem to occur at the same time as a rise in the number of cases,’ says David.
However, some dogs seem intrinsically pre-disposed, and it’s not clear why.
‘Hundreds of dogs can walk in the same location but only one will get the disease,’ explains David. ‘It’s a combination of things that come together.’
Should owners let their dogs get muddy?
‘Dogs need to run and owners should let them enjoy themselves getting muddy,’ urges Caroline.
‘People need to be aware of the disease,’ adds David. ‘But we want them to enjoy their walks in all weather and not worry.’
Be aware that Alabama Rot is most seen between October and April.
Washing and grooming after muddy walks makes dogs more comfortable and gives owners peace of mind – not to mention a clean car and house
‘A nice wash or groom also lets you check for nicks and injuries,’ adds Caroline. ‘It’s a good thing for owners to do in general.
‘It may have an additional benefit, but we just don’t know when it comes to Alabama Rot.’
One of the first signs of Alabama Rot are skin sores, typically below a dog’s elbow or knee, but sometimes on their body or face. The dog might appear healthy, but then start licking the affected area.
‘Alabama Rot sores have a more ulcerated appearance,’ says Caroline.
Usually, over an average of three days, the dog will develop kidney failure.
‘The signs will be them going off food, or vomiting and being quiet,’ David explains. ‘If a dog has kidney failure, there is a high mortality rate – around 85%. The time between getting a skin lesion and a dog losing their life is around seven days.’
Both experts stress a sore is unlikely to be Alabama Rot. According to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, the UK dog population in 2017 was 8.5 million. In the same year, 38 dogs sadly died of Alabama Rot.
‘If owners see an unexplained skin sore they should see their vet,’ David says. ‘Vets across the UK are very aware of Alabama Rot and they can carry out blood or urine tests to give some reassurance.’
A blood test could indicate kidney failure and early identification of the disease could improve the possible outcome.
Alabama Rot is utterly devastating for those who have lost their pets. But, as our experts explain, it affects a tiny proportion of the UK dog population. Regular exercise and a focus on your pet’s wellbeing is important, even in wet weather.
‘You’re much more likely to have problems with obesity and diseases that can be vaccinated against like lungworm or parvovirus,’ says Caroline.
‘Be aware of Alabama Rot, but make sure you’re doing all you can to protect your dog from things that are preventable, with boosters and parasite prevention.’
So, as well as keeping a keen eye on your pet’s safety, treasure every moment with your dog, get muddy and have fun!