What is Alabama rot?
Alabama rot, also known as cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV), is a condition that’s thought to only affects dogs.
It was first reported in the UK in 2012 and its exact cause is still unknown, but it's thought to be linked to toxins caused by bacteria such as E. coli. Water and food-related causes have been ruled out.
In the UK, the disease has proven fatal in 85% of cases, according to the Alabama Rot Research Fund, although it is rare for dogs here to catch it in the first place. There have been 277 confirmed cases between 2012 and April 2021.
Alabama rot causes blood clots and damages affected tissue, including the skin and organs. The condition can become more serious quickly – sometimes within a matter of days - and dogs usually start to show symptoms of kidney problems.
What are the symptoms of Alabama Rot?
The symptoms most dog owners notice first are unexplained skin sores on the lower legs, abdomen, face and inside the mouth and on the tongue. These can look like bites, sores, wounds or stings.
Most lesions associated with Alabama rot start off small (the size of a five pence piece) but can become much larger and often take a long time to heal.
Other early symptoms to look out for are:
Some dogs go on to develop renal failure (kidney failure), which can be fatal. Some symptoms of this are:
Yellowing of the white of the eyes
If you’re worried about any of these symptoms in your dog, you should contact your vet immediately. If you have pet insurance with us you can use our unlimited, 24/7 online vet advice service to get fast advice for any worrying symptoms.
How is Alabama rot spread?
“There have been no known cases of Alabama Rot spreading from dog to dog, or from dog to human,” says veterinary surgeon Sophie Bell.
“There also doesn't seem to be any link between a dog's age, sex, weight or breed and its susceptibility to Alabama rot.”
But at the moment, nobody really knows how the disease is spread. Some veterinary experts think it may be a parasite, while others think it could be bacterial.
The most common theory is that it’s caused by the toxins produced by E. Coli and that the toxins are picked up from mud in woodlands.
How can you prevent your dog from getting Alabama Rot?
Confirmed cases of Alabama rot are now quite widely spread across multiple counties across the UK, making it harder to avoid specific areas with outbreaks. You can check for cases near you with the map on this page.
“It’s worth being more vigilant during the Winter and Spring months,“ says Bell. “Using warm water and pet-friendly shampoo to wash your dog’s legs following a muddy or boggy walk could be beneficial, but there is no research to support this.”
But giving your dog a good wash off after muddy walks could at least help you to spot the symptoms early. “Make sure to check your dog’s paw pads. Any unexplained skin sore should be reported to your vet. It’s important to note that there may be more than one sore present at the time.”
How will my vet diagnose and treat Alabama Rot?
It can be extremely difficult for your vet to diagnose exactly why your dog has an unexplained sore. Usually, it is due to something much more common and less alarming, like a bite or sting.
If your vet thinks your dog has Alabama rot, treatment will start immediately.
“If Alabama rot is suspected, it may be advised that your dog has daily blood tests to monitor their kidney function over seven-10 days,” says Bell.
“The wounds can also be reevaluated with each visit. Some dogs may require antibiotics for the skin lesions and potentially pain relief. If kidney failure is suspected, then the use of intravenous fluids and possibly dialysis would be recommended. The prognosis for these cases is poor but improved if diagnosed early.”
Unfortunately, no cure for Alabama rot has been found and there’s no vaccine to protect against it.
Some dogs can fight the disease and survive with minimal damage to their health. Sadly though, the condition is fatal for most dogs.
If you are prescribed antibiotics and medication to treat the symptoms of Alabama Rot, it might be cheaper, faster and more convenient to order your prescription from an online pharmacy.
The history of Alabama Rot in the UK
Alabama rot was first identified in the UK in November 2012. By January 2014 a wide range of breeds had been affected.
While there is a wide geographical spread of the illness across the United Kingdom, there has been a concentration of the disease in the New Forest. There have been 29 cases spread between Bournemouth and Southampton.
Alabama rot has been seen in all four countries of the UK with notable clusters in Surrey and the Greater Manchester area.
April 2021 update: Higher case numbers
There have been 26 cases in 2021 by April, a high number compared to previous years.
There were 37 confirmed cases of Alabama rot in the UK in 2020.
October 2019 update: New cases of Alabama Rot
Two new cases of Alabama Rot have been confirmed. This was the 16th case that has been reported in 2019.
The latest cases of the lethal disease occurred in Westbury, Wiltshire and Coleford, Gloucestershire. The UK has now had more than 191 confirmed cases of Alabama rot across 39 counties. The first case was reported in 2012. Greater Manchester, Dorset, Devon and the New Forest in Hampshire have seen the highest number of cases.
Anderson Moores, the UK’s leading expert on the condition, says that in spite this being worrying news for pet owners, the disease is still relatively rare. David Walker, Anderson Moores' lead researcher advises pet owners to "remain calm, but vigilant, and seek advice from their vet if their dog develops unexplained skin lesions.”
August 2018 update: Alabama rot treatment breakthrough
The Royal Veterinary College has announced a breakthrough treatment for Alabama Rot. Six dogs underwent the procedure and two of them have now made a full recovery. This is the first time dogs severely affected by the disease have survived.
After identifying similarities between the human thrombotic microangiopathy and Alabama rot, researchers decided to test the same treatment used to treat thrombotic microangiopathy on dogs affected by Alabama rot. The procedure, called plasmapheresis or therapeutic plasma exchange, filters the patient's blood. Once filtered the blood is returned to the patient.
So far only two of the dogs have made a full recovery but Stefano Cortellini, the researcher responsible for the breakthrough remains hopeful that if not central to dogs' recovery from Alabama rot, plasma exchange will be an important part in the fight against the disease.
March 2018 update: Is Alabama rot spreading?
Thirty new cases of Alabama Rot have been reported since the beginning of 2018 in the UK. Most recently, cases have been confirmed in Petworth, Brighton, Lincolnshire, Devon, Tooting (London), Manchester and Cornwall. A further two cases were reported in West Sussex, another in Findon. The latest fatality, announced on the 22 March, was in Cornwall.
The disease has claimed more than 153 dogs since it was first identified in 2012. Now there is evidence that it might be spreading more rapidly, with 36 cases reported in 2017, twice that amount reported in 2016; and 80% of the number of cases reported for the whole of 2017, already confirmed in 2018.
The deadly disease has been reported in over 33 counties around the country. Hampshire and Greater Manchester have had the highest number of confirmed cases so far: 18 in Hampshire and 17 in Greater Manchester.
January 2018 update:
Veterinary Doctor Fiona Macdonald is investigating a bacteria she thinks might hold the key to identifying the cause of Alabama rot. The bacteria is called Aeromonas Hydrophila and can be found in water and soil.
Dr Macdonald told the Veterinary Times that the first cases of the disease appear to have happened in colder areas with large amounts of water and high rainfall. The exact cause of the disease is still unknown.