Here we explain how to tell if your dog is showing signs of Alabama rot, how to prevent it and how it's treated. Plus we have a map showing where cases have been identified.
What is Alabama rot?
Alabama rot is a potentially fatal fungal infection in dogs which can quickly develop into kidney failure within a few days.
The disease causes blood clots in the blood vessels in the skin and kidneys. These clots block the vessels and can lead to sores on the skin and damage to the kidneys.
Alabama rot got its name as it was first found in greyhounds in the US state in the Eighties.
The cause is currently unknown, making it hard for veterinarians to treat.
It is rare in the UK, with only 297 cases recorded since it was first discovered in the UK in 2012. There have been seven confirmed cases in 2023.
But when it strikes it can cause kidney failure within just two to seven days.
Diagnosis of Alabama rot is difficult and treatment can be extremely expensive, with one family left with a vet bill of £11,000 after their dog sadly died of the disease.
In that case, the family had pet insurance with The Insurance Emporium, which says it's especially important for dog owners to look out for symptoms in the colder, wetter months.
The insurance provider has had two claims for the disease since 2020 and say one of those dogs dog died.
Francis Martin, CEO of The Insurance Emporium, said: “While we’re aware this is a very rare disease, nonetheless, it can be potentially fatal for dogs, and we would urge owners to educate themselves on the symptoms to look out for, especially during the winter where it appears to be more prevalent due to the weather conditions.”
Alabama rot symptoms
There are visible signs of Alabama rot on your dog's skin, with lesions appearing where the blood vessels have been damaged. But there are also a number of other symptoms which may not be so obvious and can be connected to a number of problems, such as vomiting, or tiredness.
The main Alabama rot symptoms are:
- Skin sores
- Licking paws more often
- Low energy^
- Reduced appetite^
- Drinking more^
^These are general signs of kidney injury.
Skin problems are cause for concern if you can't put your finger on an incident where your dog may have sustained an injury.
They usually appear below the knee or elbow but also can show on the face or chest.
Alabama rot map
Alabama rot has been found across the UK since it the first confirmed case in 2012, but the New Forest area of Hampshire, Dorset, Greater Manchester and west London appear to have had more cases than most.
Cumbria, north Yorkshire, East Anglia, Scotland and north and central Wales appear to have fewer confirmed cases than most. There are also only four cases reported in Northern Ireland.
However, Alabama rot detection is dependant on whether a dog owner takes their pet to the vets, and they are able to positively confirm the condition, which isn't easy as there is no known cause. That means there could be more, unknown, cases that haven't been recorded.
Anderson Moores veterinary practice has been compiling a map of cases to keep an eye on the disease's spread.
Alabama rot prevention
Experts have noticed there is a spike in cases between November and May in recent years, and many have been diagnosed after outdoor walks.
It has led to some vets wondering if the disease is spread through contact with mud, woodland areas or infected puddles.
As explained above, the cause of Alabama rot has not been identified, so vets can only theorise how it's spreading.
They urge dog owners to wash off mud after walks, especially if you've gone into wooded areas, plus remember the Alabama rot symptoms to look out for, as explained in this article.
You may also want to consider dog insurance if you haven't already got cover for your pet, as diagnostic tests and treatment for Alabama rot can quickly run into thousands of pounds.
Alabama rot treatment
Treatment for Alabama rot depends on the severity of the disease.
Skin sores and lesions can be treated easily with ointments or antibiotics, but kidney issues are more complicated.
If you suspect your dog has Alabama rot, contact your vet immediately. It’s thought about 80 percent of dogs die within seven days of the disease spreading to the kidneys, so it’s important to seek treatment in the early stages.
Where kidneys are not impacted, the dog has more chance of recovery.
Kidney failure will be diagnosed with blood and urine tests, and if Alabama rot is suspected from other symptoms, these may be done regularly as a precaution to monitor kidney function.
If your dog has kidney failure it will need intensive support and will likely be hospitalised. Vets treat kidney failure with medication, fluid therapy and even kidney dialysis.
There is hope for more treatment options and easier diagnosis after two breakthroughs by researchers.
The Royal Veterinary College has trialled Therapeutic Plasma Exchange treatment which filters the dog's blood to remove toxins. Two out of the six dogs treated in its study made a full recovery.
Scientists may also be on the way to finding the cause of the disease after isolating bacterium in samples of Alabama rot.
Once all the samples have been analysed, it will "open the door" to developing diagnostics kits and future early treatment, Fiona Macdonald, project lead at the University of Bristol, said.
She added: “Once this stage of the investigation has been completed, then attention can be directed to other aspects, such as looking for environmental DNA of the organism, which will be extremely valuable in determining the spread of the disease and consequent risks to dogs walking in high risk areas.”
Alabama rot pictures
Dog owners and carers have shared images of Alabama rot affecting their animals in a warning to others.
Here a small skin lesion can be seen on this dog in Derby, in an image from 2018:
There's been a confirmed fatality of Alabama Rot in Derby. This photo is of the lesion that appeared on a young dog’s leg last week. He was taken to the vets on Friday and had to be put to sleep today. It's a deadly disease and you need to get your dog to the vets urgently pic.twitter.com/FvjFeBl80Z— Shane, Sheba and Sky Rescue Dogs Author Paul Viner (@V1964Paul) February 26, 2018
Ulcers on a dog’s paw were also seen in a case in Wiltshire in 2019:
A new case of Alabama Rot has been confirmed in Westbury. The disease can be deadly to dogs. pic.twitter.com/kNqt4xwzPN— BBC Radio Wiltshire (@BBCWiltshire) October 16, 2019