Dogs Alabama Rot

Published on March 5th, 2015 | by Debbie Martin


Understanding the dangers of Alabama Rot

Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy, or Alabama Rot, is a rare and potentially fatal condition affecting a dog’s excretory system.  It ultimately causes kidney failure, which is just as serious a problem for dogs as it is for humans.  It has caused something of a panic among British dog owners, with reports of dogs becoming infected spreading throughout the country’s local media.

The condition was first discovered in the 1980s, in the American state from which it draws its name, and was first thought to affect only greyhounds – though the disease has since been recognised in other breeds of dog.  As the disease is so rare, there has been little opportunity to research Alabama Rot.  As such, precious little is known about the disease, other than that it affects a tiny minority of dogs taken for walks in the countryside.

What are the causes?

The precise origins of the disease are unknown – making it something of a new threat to dogs.  It is thought to be caused by toxins produced by certain strains of bacteria, such as e-coli.  In the United Kingdom, the Environment Agency last year ruled out chemical contamination of water supply as a possible cause, after an outbreak of the disease killed seventeen dogs.

What are the symptoms?

The earliest indicator that a dog might be suffering from Alabama Rot is that it will begin to develop lesions on their skin:  patches where the animal’s skin will not properly heal, usually just below the knee.

More obvious symptoms will manifest sometime later.  A week or so after being infected, a dog’s kidneys will start to fail.  Dogs suffering from kidney failure will appear more lethargic, and less inclined to eat.  They may also vomit.  Whatever the cause, kidney failure is a serious problem, and any dog exhibiting these symptoms should be taken to a vet at the earliest possible opportunity.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of Alabama Rot are common among sufferers of many different sorts of disease.  It is therefore difficult for a pet-owner to judge with any certainty whether their pet is infected.  Dog owners should therefore not panic in the event that they notice any of these symptoms – there are a lot of different reasons a dog may develop sores and lesions – and many of them are comparatively benign.

If the dog is infected, however, then it must be treated at the earliest possible opportunity.  If left to progress unhindered, the condition may eventually be fatal.  If you suspect that your dog has developed a kidney problem, then you should consult a vet.  It is important that this is done before the disease has had a chance to progress.  The earlier the disease is identified, the easier it is to manage.

How can it be treated?

Unfortunately, Alabama Rot is difficult to treat.  There is no vaccination against the disease, and it will therefore prove fatal in many dogs.  The only thing a vet can do when presented with an afflicted dog is to treat the kidney failure.

Unfortunately, kidney problems cannot be reversed or halted.  They can, however, be managed.  This is done through a combination of methods.  A dog’s diet may need to be policed in order to minimise strain put on the kidneys.  Dietary protein, in particular, may need to be carefully monitored.  In some instance, it may be helpful to put the dog on a specialised diet – specifically one rich in potassium and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, as these have been proven helpful to kidney function.  It is also important to ensure that a dog whose kidneys are failing is kept properly hydrated.  Ensure that your dog has enough water, and that it is clean and fresh.

If they think it is necessary, your vet might provide fluid intravenously – though this is only common in particularly severe cases of dehydration.

How can it be prevented?

Since the exact causes of the disease are contentious, it is difficult to say with any certainty how it can be prevented – and, indeed, some misguided preventative strategies can end up causing more harm than good.

There are, however, a few general rules of thumb which dog owners might consider adopting.  If you happen to notice that your dog picks up and chews on things, then you should take steps to prevent it from doing so.  This might prove a great deal more difficult than it sounds, depending on the dog.  This will also guard against the dangers caused by choking – which in all likelihood poses a greater risk to your dog than Alabama Rot does.  Similarly, you might consider regularly bathing your dog in order to guard against harmful bacteria.  This is particularly advisable after a long walk, as this appears to be where most dogs contract the disease.

As we have noted, the condition, for the most part, affects dogs taken for walks in the countryside.  However, the disease only affects a tiny minority of such dogs.  You might consider walking your dog through an urban area instead.  But there are a number of other health problems that can result from walking a dog in a built-up area – most of them relating to emissions from cars, spillages and traffic.

It is vitally important that the prevalence of this disease is put into context.  Of the millions of dogs taken for walks every year in Britain, barely a handful manage to contract this extremely rare disease.  The adverse health effects of not taking a dog for a walk at all therefore vastly outweigh those of keeping it inside in a misguided attempt to avoid this extremely rare condition.

There has been something of a hysteria surrounding the emergence of this disease – it is worth stressing again, however, how unlikely it is that a given dog will contract it.  If you are worried about Alabama Rot, and your dog has yet to display any of the symptoms, then your worry is misplaced.  Or, to put it another way, the disease bark is far worse than its bite.

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About the Author

Debbie has worked for Beeston Animal Health for a number of years and although generally involved with the marketing these days she has a great deal of knowledge on many things to do with small animals.

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