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Alabama Rot

In recent years a new disease affecting dogs has been recognised in the UK. Cases most commonly appear between November and May, suggesting a possible winter seasonality. It has been reported in many counties across the UK. The disease was first recognised in America in the 1980′s where it was called ‘Alabama rot’ (or ‘Greenetrack disease’, after the state and greyhound racing track where it was first seen.

The correct name for Alabama Rot is cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (abbreviated to CRGV), a term which describes the disease process. The disease causes damage to the blood vessels (vasculopathy) of the skin and kidney (cutaneous and renal) tissues. Any dog can be affected. As yet the cause of the disease has not been identified although many theories have been suggested.

What is cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV)?

The cause of CRGV is not known but affected dogs develop skin lesions and may go on to develop acute kidney failure. The disease causes damage to the lining of the blood vessels in the skin and kidney. This leads to the formation of blood clots which partially block the blood vessels, thus reducing blood supply to the affected organs and damage to the tissue. As red blood cells squeeze through these narrowed blood vessels they may also be damaged. These damaged red blood cells are then destroyed by the body, and the loss of the red blood cells can lead to anaemia.

How would I know if my dog has CRGV?

Often, the first signs noticed in dogs with CRGV are slightly raised or raw patches of skin on the paws, limbs, underbelly, muzzle, and/or on the tongue. The lesions are often circular and gradually become dark in the centre before ulcerating. These lesions can vary in size – some dogs have small lesions (a few millimetres), whilst some have very large lesions(s). These lesions are often surrounded by swelling, bruising, or redness and tend to be very painful, so your dog may be licking them. If the lesion(s) affect the paw, the dog may be lame. Most dogs initially seem well in themselves, however, some dogs seem ‘off colour’. They may be lethargic or stiff. Some dogs will refuse food or water, and some will have vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

What should I do if I suspect my dog has CRGV?

If your dog is unwell for any reason, including if they have any unexplained skin lesions, it is best to seek advice from your own vet. Most dogs developing a sore on the paw or leg will be more likely to have cut or grazed themselves out walking than to have developed CRGV but, as treatment may be required, it is always wise to seek veterinary advice. It is important to note that, even if it is CRGV, many dogs will only have skin lesions and will not develop kidney failure.

How will my vet know if my dog has CRGV?

Your vet will take a thorough history from you, including when the lesions were first noticed, and how your dog seems in itself. They may discuss blood and urine tests with you. There is, unfortunately, no single test to confirm CRGV in patients, however, your vet can discuss further tests, such as biopsy of the skin lesion and specific testing of kidney function.

Very sadly, CRGV can currently only be confirmed by looking at kidney tissue under the microscope. Since most patients with kidney failure are too unwell to have a general anaesthetic and a kidney biopsy, it is usually only possible to confirm the diagnosis of CRGV after death if the dog doesn’t recover.

Can CRGV be treated?

Dogs with skin lesions, but are well in themselves, may be managed with skin treatments, and/or antibiotic tablets. If your dog is unwell or develops kidney disease they are likely to be admitted for a fluid drip and medical management as needed. Your vet may want to send your pet to a specialist centre for this.

There is currently no specific treatment for CRGV. If kidney disease develops, the main goals of therapy are to keep the dog comfortable and to support them medically whilst allowing the kidneys time to recover.  Some dogs will recover from this management, but some dogs’ kidneys will fail completely, in spite of management.

Will my dog get better?

The outlook for dogs which develop skin lesion(s) but not kidney disease, is excellent. Most dogs will recover fully, although the skin lesions(s) can take weeks to months to fully heal, and may scar.

Very sadly, the outlook if kidney disease develops is much poorer. Overall, less than 1 in 8 dogs with kidney injury have survived, although the percentage of dogs surviving may be slightly higher (approximately 1 in 4) for those managed in specialist referral centres.

How can I protect my dog from CRGV?

As the cause is currently unknown, it is very difficult to know how best to protect dogs from this illness. It may be prudent to wash mud and dirt off dogs after walking, but it is not known if this is beneficial.

Some owners prefer not to walk their dogs in areas where affected cases have been walked, but it is not known if there is an environmental ‘trigger’, so again, avoiding certain areas may not be necessary.

What is being done to further the understanding of CRGV?

Research into this illness is ongoing. If you live in the UK and would be willing to complete a questionnaire to help the research programme (whether your dog has been affected or not) visit  www.aht.org.uk/cms-display/aki.html

Since research is very costly and is not funded by the government or any other central organisation, fundraising for research is also being undertaken. The New Forest Dog Owners Group set up a research fund for CRGV in 2014. If you would like to donate or participate in fundraising please visit www.newforestdog.org.uk

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Fenton Vets

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