Alabama Rot – How Worried Should We Be?
Alabama rot is making headlines once again. Understandably, dog owners are very concerned about what seems to be an unexplained disease without a cure. In this article, we look into Alabama rot, most importantly examining the risk it poses to dogs here in the UK.
Alabama rot has affected Greyhounds in the US since the 1980s. However, it is a relatively new disease in the UK with cases only occurring since November 2012 here. Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialists have dedicated themselves to studying the disease and provide a fact sheet to help owners. The disease, whose official name is cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV), damages blood vessels of the skin and kidney. This damage causes ulceration of the skin and can lead to kidney failure, whose symptoms include vomiting, tiredness and lack of appetite. Alabama rot affects a wider range of breeds here than it does in the US. In addition, cases seem to be more prevalent between the months of November and June.
Diagnosis is difficult, yet essential, in the early stages. It is sometimes hard to differentiate the skin lesions from ordinary bites, stings, cuts and grazes. Any redness, sores or swellings on the paws or legs, but also on the mouth, tongue, face or body, need checking by a vet immediately. Once skin lesions appear, the disease can potentially progress rapidly to more dangerous, and even fatal, stages. Although only 20-30% of dogs survive once the disease progresses to kidney failure, Anderson Moores are quick to reassure dog owners that even if their dog’s lesions are caused by Alabama rot, the disease will not necessarily progress this far. Seeking treatment at the first signs of skin lesions offers the best chances of survival. In fact, there have been only 94 confirmed cases of the disease between November 2012 and April 2017.
Without a known cause, it is impossible to warn dog owners to avoid particular areas that could contain a contaminant. Some reports suggest steering clear of humid, damp places, such as woodland, or taking the precaution of washing down dogs following a walk. Forestry Commission England state, “Because the cause remains unknown we do not want to give the impression that some areas are safer than others. Indeed there may not be an environmental trigger. We are not informing visitors about specific sites unless cases are confirmed as CRGV and a scientific connection to the dogs walked on the site is made.”
With only 94 confirmed cases over four and a half years, is it possible that the media is scaremongering over this mystery disease? Studying causes of dog deaths in general sheds some light on the actual risk from Alabama rot in the UK.
The life expectancy of a dog varies depending on several factors:
- Size of dog – in general small dogs live longer than large dogs.
- Breed of dog – some breeds inherit or are prone to health conditions that shorten their life span. Also, purebreeds are statistically likely to have a shorter lifespans than a crossbreed. However, some individual purebreeds, such as Border Collies and English Springer Spaniels do have a longer lifespan than crossbreeds.
- Welfare – a dog that is fed to condition on a nutritionally balanced dog food, such as Gilbertson & Page’s Dr John or Gilpa ranges, has regular exercise and an owner who monitors its health is likely to live longer than a dog that is over- or underweight and neglected.
- According to research, young dogs are more likely to die from infection or trauma, whereas older dogs are more likely to die from neurologic or neoplastic causes.
Research carried out jointly by the Royal Veterinary College, University of London and The University of Sydney examined the causes of death of 4728 dogs on the VetCompass database. The data came from 92 veterinary practices over four years (2007-2011). The team selected dogs that had either died or were euthanased in that period. The most commonly recorded causes of canine death were neoplasia (abnormal cell growth – cancer) and musculoskeletal system problems. The first having a frequency of 775 (16.39%) and the second a frequency of 594 (12.56%). Looking at causes with a lower frequency, road traffic accidents accounted for 89 deaths or 1.88% of the total.
Clearly, researchers collated this data before the first cases of Alabama rot occurred in the UK. Therefore the data does not include any deaths from the disease. However, it does give a good indication of the frequency of other causes of canine death enabling us to quantify the risk Alabama rot poses alongside these. Cases of Alabama rot are certainly not frequent enough to warrant widespread panic about the disease. Statistically, dogs are at far higher risk of dying from cancer, musculoskeletal problems, heart conditions, seizures and respiratory problems. However, the fact that the cause of CRGV remains unknown, the frequency of cases is increasing and locations are spreading is worrying. Thankfully, researchers are investing large amounts of time and money into fathoming out Alabama rot.
Gilbertson & Page always recommend seeking the advice of a vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.
- Alabama Rot. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alabama_rot
- Cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV or ‘Alabama Rot’). https://www.forestry.gov.uk/alabamarot
- Mystery dog-killing disease is Alabama rot, say vet, Sarah Knapton. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/pets-health/11490294/Mystery-dog-killing-disease-is-Alabama-Rot-say-vets.html
- CRGV (Alabama rot) Information. http://www.andersonmoores.com/owner/CRGV.php
- Cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy/Alabama rot – veterinary Information Sheet http://www.andersonmoores.com/about/new.php?u=W9ZXAJV7R47E9NC25GHZ
- Stop Alabama Rot. http://www.arrf.co.uk/
- Alabama rot dog disease – what you need to know, Ashley Gray MA Vet MB PhD MRCVS. http://www.countryfile.com/news/alabama-rot-dog-disease-what-you-need-know
- Longevity of UK Dog Breeds, O’Neill DG, Church DB, McGreevy PD, Thomson PC, Brodbelt DC. http://www.venomcoding.org/venom/Research_files/Longevity%20of%20UK%20Dog%20Breeds.pdf
- Mortality in North American Dogs from 1984-2004: An Investigation into Age-, Size-, and Breed-Related Causes of Death, JM Fleming, KE Creevy, DEL Promislow. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1939-1676.2011.0695.x/full