Having said goodbye to 2017 – the UK’s worst year for cases of the deadly disease, Alabama Rot – we are faced with two new incidences in North Devon and North Yorkshire this January. Sometimes referred to as ‘Black Death’ disease, the official name is Cutaneous and Renal Vasculopathy (CRGV).

Last year, Alabama Rot was reported up and down the UK, in counties from Cornwall to Hampshire, and as far north as Greater Manchester. Unfortunately, the disease largely remains a mystery and is notoriously difficult to treat, with a tragically high death rate of 85-90%.

Where did the name come from?

The disease was first documented in Alabama in the 1980s. It was identified amongst greyhounds initially before seeming to disappear, with very little clinical research being carried out to identify its cause.

The first suspected cases of the disease in the UK were in 2012, and since then, roughly 98 confirmed cases have been identified, along with 22 unconfirmed and 35 suspected.

What are the first symptoms of the disease?

Affected dogs will first exhibit skin sores, which take the form of lesions, open wounds, ulcers, localised inflammation or areas of red skin. Although they are commonly found on the legs below the knee or elbow, they can also be found elsewhere on the body, such as the stomach, face or tongue. Hair loss may also be evident, and you may notice your dog licking at the area.

After a period of 2-7 days, you may observe vague, more generalised signs of illness, such as severe malaise, loss of appetite and vomiting, as your dog succumbs to kidney failure. This happens as the disease causes tiny clots to form in the blood vessels, leading to ulceration in the skin and severe organ dysfunction in the kidneys.

How is the disease spread?

Precious little is known about the cause and origins of Alabama Rot, although recent research suggests it is a rare form of E.coli that may be spread through water. What we do know is how it affects the body; technically speaking, Alabama Rot is a form of thrombotic microangiopathy, a condition that blocks off blood supply to tissue and organs.

There is some speculation that walking dogs in muddy, woodland areas poses more of a threat, as these were the areas visited by all affected dogs before showing symptoms. Despite this, the Forestry Commission has yet to highlight any specific areas as danger zones, as thousands of dogs are walked every day in muddy, woodland areas, without contracting the potentially fatal disease.

That said, there is strong evidence that the disease has an environmental trigger and that whatever causes it is ingested orally.

How do I protect my dog?

Unfortunately, there is no current cure for Alabama Rot, although, if caught early enough, there is some hope for eventual recovery.

Time is of the essence with this disease, so if you are at all concerned about your dog, contact your vet as soon as possible. Pay close attention to your dog’s skin immediately after walking and make sure they are adequately wiped down or fully bathed if heavily covered in mud.

Of course, the spread of Alabama Rot is very worrying, but it is important not to panic. The number of dogs affected, while it may seem high, is comparatively small in relation to the number of dogs that are walked every day in the UK. As the occurrence of disease is far-reaching and has had a presence in many counties up and down the country, there is no real evidence to suggest any areas are more at risk than others, so remain vigilant but don’t let anxiety prevent you from walking your dog.

If you have any thoughts on this discussion or need advice, feel free to comment below or email me directly.

Written by: Hannah Dyball