One of the more interesting aspects of microbiology is the emergence of ‘new’ diseases caused by microbes. A new disease may be the recognition of an existing pathogen as the causative organism of a condition or the emergence of a previously unrecognised pathogen.

The veterinary world has been presented with a ‘new’ condition called Alabama Rot that affects dogs. Alabama Rot was first identified in the US in the 1980s and was largely confined to greyhounds. By 2012 the disease had emerged in the UK and was being diagnosed in a variety of breeds.

What is Alabama Rot and what are its symptoms?

Alabama Rot (more technically termed Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy or CRGV) usually presents as reddening skin or ulcer-like skin lesions found on the hind legs, face and stomach. The dog can be lethargic, vomiting and off its food. About a quarter of dogs will have kidney problems and the disease can be fatal.

What causes Alabama Rot?

The answer is unsure although some researchers believe the condition is an infection resulting from exposure to certain toxin-producing bacteria, including a rare form of E. coli. Dogs may be exposed to Alabama Rot as a result of coming into contact with bacteria while out walking in woodlands, particularly close to decaying plant material or while wading through streams or ponds. Without the isolation of the causative organism(s) vaccine production is not possible. Expert advice, then, is to wash off mud from dogs thoroughly after country walks and be diligent for the appearance of tell-tales symptoms.

Alabama Rot, for the time being, is a microbiological enigma. In the absence of definitive evidence as to the cause of Alabama Rot in dogs, a report published by the British Medical Journal was unable to conclude whether the mystery illness is an emerging disease or one that was previously present but unrecognised.