arm yourself with info about this emerging disease
When news broke a couple of years ago that “Alabama rot,” a somewhat rare and fatal “Southern” canine disease, was diagnosed in the United Kingdom, I was intrigued. To be honest, I assumed the cases were probably misdiagnosed. Sadly, the number of confirmed cases of Alabama rot in England continues to grow. As a Southern veterinarian, I wanted to know more and perhaps shed a fresh take on this rotten disease.
Alabama rot is the nickname for Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV). It was first recognized in racing Greyhounds around 1985, originating in, you guessed it, Alabama. As a student I was taught it was also known as “Greenetrack Disease,” named after the Greyhound racetrack believed to be Ground Zero. Today we know Alabama rot can affect other breeds, although Greyhounds seem to be particularly affected.
Confusingly, the recent outbreak in the U.K. has not involved Greyhounds. The disease is named after the fact that it compromises the blood vessels of the skin and kidneys, resulting in tissue death. The symptoms of Alabama rot begin with inexplicable oozing and ulcerated skin lesions on the legs, chest and stomach. Some dogs will also develop red, raw sores on their tongues. After the skin sores appear, kidney failure typically follows within two to seven days.
Many dogs die quickly or must be euthanized due to the severity of renal disease. Once kidney failure occurs, the prognosis becomes grim. Aggressive treatment has proven successful in about 20% of cases that developed kidney lesions. The disease doesn’t appear to be transmissible between dogs and the skin sores aren’t infectious, although that hasn’t been definitively established. The question is, what causes Alabama rot?
Thirty years of investigating Alabama rot has failed to uncover the exact cause. When I was in veterinary school, we believed it was due to food, specifically rotten meats. Recent research from England failed to find a definitive cause, but it did eliminate one of the most popular theories. Over the past decade or so, many veterinarians, including me, believed the culprit was likely Shiga toxin produced by E. coli bacteria.
You might be familiar with Shiga toxin from the deadly 2011 European E. coli that claimed at least 32 lives and more recent E. coli 0157 outbreaks in the U.S. In many of the fatalities, patients developed bloody diarrhea that progressed to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and kidney failure. The latest research did not find Shiga toxin in the affected dogs. We’re still puzzled as to the exact cause of Alabama rot.
We also don’t know if Alabama rot has been around for ages and we’re only now recognizing it or if this is a new, emerging disease. What we do know is Alabama rot is extremely rare, most commonly seen in Greyhounds in the U.S. My best advice is to have your dog seen immediately if you observe any sudden, unusual sores. It’s probably not Alabama rot, but there are other infections and medical conditions that need to be treated quickly to prevent further damage or spread.
Perhaps the biggest news is that Alabama rot is no longer relegated to Greyhounds living in the USA’s lower latitudes. Because the outbreaks tend to occur in clusters, I’m still betting on a local bacterium, virus or toxin as perpetrator. I’m also curious about the relationship between human HUS and CRGV; I suspect there’s a connection somewhere. My connection with Alabama rot will always be “Sweet Home Alabama” – no rot required, thank you. Here’s hoping we find a cause, and cure, soon.