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Thursday, 7 December 2017

Alabama Rot – a new disease all dog owners should be aware of

Alabama Rot, or CRGV (Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy) is a disease first described back in the 1980s in a number of Greyhounds in Alabama, USA – hence the name. However since 2012, more than a hundred dogs across the UK, have been identified as having the same, or a very similar, disease.

The majority of dogs will initially show skin lesions, typically appearing as ulcers or erosions on the lower limbs, tummy or around the mouth and nose. A few days later, the kidneys go into rapid failure, and the pet will suddenly show signs of severe illness, with 80% of dogs going on to die, despite their vets’ best efforts at treatment.

The kidney failure that occurs is thought to be a result of inflammation and damage to the lining of the blood vessels that supply the organs. This leads to widespread formation of tiny blood clots, and consumption of platelets, leading to a low platelet count in most cases. Anaemia (low red blood cell count) and changes in white blood cell and bilirubin levels may also be identified on routine blood tests. However there is no specific blood test that can be performed to detect CRGV, as the cause is not yet known. Therefore sadly, the only way to diagnose it is post-mortem, when samples of kidney tissue may be examined under the microscope, to identify the characteristic changes that occur.

If you take your dog to the vet with a skin lesion, they will be able to assess it and decide on the best course of action. Treatments may include antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, ointments and protective dressings, depending on the nature of the lesion. However they will not be able to tell if the lesion is due to CRGV. Should your dog go on to become unwell, they will advise performing further tests to investigate, along with more intensive treatment. Sometimes referral to a Specialist veterinary centre (where vets with additional qualifications, experience and facilities see unusual cases or very poorly pets), may be advised, in order to give your dog the best chance of recovery possible.

Predisposing factors
A wide range of breeds have been identified with CRGV in the UK, suggesting the disease does not solely affect greyhounds here. In fact, there does not appear to be a breed, body weight, sex or age predilection. Neither does there seem to be a particular geographical distribution for the disease, as whilst initially most cases were seen in and around the New Forest, many other cases have now been identified across the whole of the UK. However there does appear to be a seasonality to the disease, with most cases being identified between November and May ie. the Winter months. Muddy walks – often unavoidable at this time of year – may be a significant risk factor.

What can dog owners do?
With the cause of CRGV currently unknown, the best advice is to be vigilant and seek veterinary advice if you have any concerns about your pet. In particular, be on the look-out for any skin sores not known to have been caused by injury, especially below the elbow or knee. Reduced appetite, vomiting and increased tiredness in your pet should never be ignored, and with these symptoms we would advise that the sooner you take your pet to the vet, the better. This is because these symptoms are non-specfic, which means they may be indicators of a whole array of diseases and disorders, ranging from mild disease due to an upset tummy, right through to very severe disease including kidney failure and CRGV.
With a link to mud (or something in it) being hypothesised, it would also seem prudent to make sure to wash-off your pet thoroughly, especially after muddy walks.

Future research
Investigations into CRGV are ongoing, with the referral centre Anderson Moores, in Hampshire, leading the way. They organised a conference earlier this year, at which leading experts in kidney disease, from both the veterinary and human medical fields, met to discuss the disease and how they could collaborate going forwards. The Alabama Rot Research Fund is a National charity that has been set up with the aim of raising awareness and funds for Alabama Rot research www.arrf.co.uk.

Elly Pittaway is Veterinary Surgeon and owner of Broad Lane Vets, an award-winning, family-run practice established in 1969, and with sites at Balsall Common, Broad Lane and Radford Road in Coventry. For more information about the practice please visit www.broadlanevets.co.uk. You can also like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!