Direct Line magazine

What is Alabama Rot?

Updated on: 23 August 2021

A dog is checked over for Alabama rot.

Alabama rot (cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy) is an increasingly common disease in dogs which causes damage to the blood vessels of the skin and kidneys. Dogs with the disease can suffer from skin ulcers, acute kidney failure and even death.

A brief history of the disease

The first reports of Alabama rot came from the US state of Alabama in the 1980s. At the time only greyhounds were affected, but it’s now known that many breeds can contract the disease.

Alabama rot is a relatively new disease to the UK, having been first reported here in 2012. There have only been a few hundred confirmed or suspected cases since then.

But in early 2021, there were a small number of dogs diagnosed in the UK.

Is my dog at risk?

With only 26 confirmed cases in 2021 as of July, the risk of your dog getting Alabama rot is small.

However, because the cause of the disease remains unknown, no vaccination against it exists and every dog is potentially at risk.

There do appear to be some factors that could increase the risk to your dog. Cases of Alabama rot have been common in Lancashire, Dorset, the New Forest, Wiltshire, Sussex and Surrey at various times, and it is advisable to check your area. There’s also a suggestion that a degree of seasonality applies to the disease, which usually occurs in the winter and spring.

There have also been reports linking the disease to dogs who were walked in muddy or woodland areas. Experts recommend that you wash your dog when you get home, and this is a good time to give them the once-over and check for signs of redness or sores.

However, no clear patterns or causes have been identified, and as the RSPCA observe, "Thousands of dogs are walked in the countryside every day and it is important to remember that only a very small amount of dogs have been affected".

What are the symptoms of Alabama Rot?

Skin lesions are the most obvious symptom to look out for, often with swelling or a patch of red skin that can open and become an ulcer.

Your dog might lose some hair around the area or start licking the wound, which will be sore. These patches of inflamed skin are commonly found on:

  • Paws

  • Lower legs

  • Face

  • Mouth

  • Tongue

  • Lower body

Not all dogs will go on to suffer kidney failure, but those that do will take an average of three days from developing skin lesions to presenting symptoms. However, kidney failure can occur anything from one to 10 days after skin lesions develop.

If you spot lesions on your dog’s skin it’s best to act quickly as kidney failure can be fatal. Signs of kidney failure include:

  • A lack of appetite

  • Being sick

  • Tiredness

If your dog appears to be under the weather, speak to your vet as soon as you can.

Bear in mind that skin sores and signs of kidney failure could be caused by other, more common problems. For example, skin sores could be due to an allergic reaction and kidney issues are often a symptom of a problem in the urinary system.

When should I take my dog to the vet?

It's best to get an expert opinion if you're worried, especially if your dog has a skin sore and you're not sure how they got it. You can book an appointment at your local vet practice.

Early treatment of the disease delivers the best results, and a suitable virtual service might be able to point you in the right direction quickly. We offer access to PawSquad, meaning Direct Line dog insurance customers can video chat, send photos and get help and advice from qualified vets.

What’s the prognosis?

Sadly, Alabama rot is fatal in nine out of 10 dogs. It’s not only the cause that’s unknown, but also the cure. Sometimes treatment works and sometimes it doesn’t.

David Walker is one of the few experts in Alabama rot and leads a lot of research in the UK. He stresses that statistics might not tell the whole story.

“The disease can only be definitively diagnosed after death by looking at kidney tissue under the microscope,” he wrote.

This means some cases go unconfirmed or deaths are attributed to Alabama rot without a post-mortem.

Other experts say treatment for the disease tends to be successful in 20-30% of cases. Changes in blood results and knowledge of the types of skin lesions can help vets identify Alabama rot, but some vets can go their whole career without treating a single case.

Research into the disease continues, with the hope of one day discovering the cause and being able to create effective treatments and even a vaccine.

Insurance for your pets

Alabama rot is a rare disease, but it’s important to know what to look for and have pet insurance in place, just in case your dog does get sick and needs treatment. With Direct Line dog insurance, you could benefit from:

  • Customisable cover and up to £8,000 towards vet fees for each condition

  • Cover for complementary treatments including physiotherapy and hydrotherapy

  • Access to PawSquad, for virtual consultations with experienced UK vets 24/7

Frequently asked questions

Can Alabama rot affect humans and other animals?

There’s no known cases of it spreading to humans or other animals like cats or rabbits.

Can I still walk my dog anywhere I like?

Yes. While it's possible to track potential hotspots by looking at confirmed cases, and you may find it reassuring to take greater care when washing your dog following visits to muddy or woodland areas, it remains the case that no clear patterns have been identified. Experts in Alabama rot in the UK, Anderson Moores, say you shouldn’t be avoiding any particular areas.

How is Alabama rot treated?

It varies. Your dog might need antibiotics for the lesions. If they go on develop kidney failure, intensive treatment and management will be needed. Your dog could stay with the vets for a number of days, or you could be referred to a specialist.

Are experts researching into the disease?

Yes. Although a lot about Alabama rot is a mystery, experts are researching the disease to develop new diagnostic tests, investigate the cause and create better treatments. The Alabama Rot Research Fund (ARRF) was established to raise awareness and funds for such research.

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