New Forest Dog On The Forest Off The Lead

Alabama Rot - New Forest research on verge of final breakthrough

A team of scientists believe they could be months away from being able to identify the source of an often‑fatal canine disease thanks to a project initiated in the New Forest. The project has been led by Ringwood vet Dr Fiona Macdonald and supported and part-funded by the New Forest Dog Owners Group.

Two dogs are known to have died after contracting cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV) – also known as Alabama rot – in southern England so far this year. But researchers at the University of Bristol say they have found a potential bacterial candidate organism that they think could be its cause.

CRGV injury

Vet and project lead Dr Macdonald said: “What we need from vets is samples or swabs from cases or suspected cases. We need to find the organism in swabs.”

A total of 292 cases have been confirmed since CRGV was first discovered locally in 2012, according to the monitoring service run by Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialists near Winchester. The practice, which has an online map showing the locations of all UK incidents of the disease, has now confirmed their first two cases of 2023.

The condition, which is thought to be seasonal, can affect the kidneys and is estimated to have a 90% mortality rate. The best possible chance of survival lies in early and intensive veterinary care. Dogs that have the disease are most often presented to vets with skin lesions on the paws, legs or underside of their bodies, or less commonly lesions can be found on the lips or tongue.

Josh Walker, co-lead of Anderson Moores’ work on CRGV, welcomes the new research and reminds owners to be watchful for signs of the condition. He says: “Unfortunately, this is the time of year when cases are most commonly identified and, sadly, we have seen the first two cases in 2023, following 11 confirmed cases in the UK last year.”

Details of the type of organism thought to be involved have not been disclosed at this stage, as they are set to be the subject of a PhD thesis. But Dr Macdonald says sequencing work is set to be carried out in the coming months and she believes they will be in a position to positively identify organism and to confirm it is the cause by the autumn.

“This is excellent news, and the research we’ve supported looks as if it is now getting very close to providing treatment plans for this horrid infection,” says Heather Gould, Chairman of the New Forest Dog Owners Group. “But dog owners need to take care and remain vigilant and seek advice from their vets if their dog develops unexplained skin lesions.”

It is thought that knowledge could enable further research in areas such as environmental sampling, test development, the origins of the pathogen and hygiene measures owners could take if dogs are walked in potentially infected areas.

Dr Macdonald said environmental sampling work for the organism has already taken place in the New Forest, and similar work will be undertaken in other areas both with and without confirmed cases.

She adds: ““It’s very exciting. Once we have fully identified it, it will give us a lot of background information on the organism. We’re interested in seeing how much is still out there. It will give us a fairly good impression of how widespread the disease still is.”

As well as lesion samples, vets are being asked to provide information on the age and breed of the dogs they came from, as well as where the dog was walked and the type of terrain encountered. The researchers are now appealing for veterinary professionals to help confirm this by sending first presentation material – before any treatment has been administered – from dogs that are thought to have the disease, to Helen Howshall, Churchill Building, Bristol Veterinary School, University of Bristol, Langford, Bristol, BS40 5DU.