Alabama Rot - What is it and how to protect your dog

Cheryl Driskell, Clinical Director at Priory Vets in East Yorkshire, takes a look at what Alabama Rot is, why it’s more common at this time of year and how you can keep your dog safe from it.

“Alabama Rot was first discovered in the UK in 2012. It’s a nasty disease and veterinary scientists are yet to find any specific causes for it. There are some tried and tested methods of avoiding it though, so try not to worry too much about your dog’s welfare.

So what is it exactly? Well, it originated in yes, you guessed it, Alabama, USA, in the 1980s and was first known to affect racing greyhounds. Because it only affected one breed, scientists thought it could be genetic, but this theory has been disproven ever since the spread of Alabama Rot. Sadly, no dog breed is immune to it.

Veterinary scientists are divided over what causes Alabama Rot but the prevailing opinion seems to be that it’s either parasites or bacteria, rather than a virus – although this isn’t to say that dogs can’t contract the disease from other affected dogs. We see more cases during the wetter months, typically October to April. This leads many vets to believe that the most common cause of Alabama Rot is walking through cold, wet and muddy surfaces – surfaces that are often overrun with pesky creatures.

Alabama Rot targets a dog’s skin and can have a serious effect on their kidneys. The most obvious symptom is large skin lesions – red sores on the skin, usually on the parts of the body that come closest to muddy soil, such as the paws, legs, underside of the belly, even the muzzle. If you spot any sores or lesions on your dog’s skin, and they haven’t fallen, cut themselves or there isn’t any logical explanation for why the symptoms have appeared, get in touch with your local vet as this might be a sign of Alabama Rot.

Other symptoms of Alabama Rot can include a high fever, lethargy (or your dog just appearing unwell or out of character), vomiting and weight loss.

Try not to worry too much though, because generally speaking, Alabama Rot is a rare condition. The best way to keep your dog safe is to keep their paws lovely and clean, and pay extra attention to them when you get back from a walk. Use warm, soapy water, wash paws thoroughly and make sure they’re nice and dry afterwards too. If your dog has picked up any bacteria/parasites on their walk, this will help to eliminate it before it has the chance to spread.

Also, when you’re out walking with your pooch, try to avoid areas that are generally dirty, or muddy, or both. Whenever you can, stick to short, clean and dry grassy areas. This will massively lower your dog’s chances of coming into contact with unwanted guests.

I’d also say just make sure you keep an eye on your dog at all times when out walking – which I’m sure you do anyway. This will just help to make sure that they don’t discover any dirty areas, and you’ll be on hand to stop them if they do. Keep one eye on the news too, if you’ve heard about a case of Alabama Rot near where you live, take extra-extra care when you take your dog for a walk – because the walk must prevail, of course.

Don’t forget to contact or visit your vet if you’re ever worried. I always say it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to our beloved furry friends – especially with mysterious diseases like this one.”

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