Researchers and vets are meeting in Reading for the first UK conference dedicated to Alabama rot, a deadly dog disease with no cure.
Alabama rot was discovered in the US in the late 1980s after a number of greyhounds died from the disease.
However, it only began affecting the UK's canine population from 2012 – when the first case was reported in a greyhound. Since then, 98 dogs have died and in 2017 alone, 15 cases were diagnosed.
The disease is also known as cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV), and so far its causes remain a mystery.
What are the symptoms of the disease?
Symptoms include lesions, ulcers or sores on the dogs' skins, mouths and muzzles, which can appear less than a week before other manifestations of the disease are observed. They are not known to be caused by any other injury.
The animals go on to develop acute kidney injury characterised by vomiting, reduced hunger or unusual tiredness, and life-threatening kidney failure. Nine dogs out of ten that develop Alabama rot end up dying from it.
The good news is that the disease remains rare so there is statistically very little chance that dog owners will see their favourite pets suffer from the disease. If trends in prevalence remain as they are, most vets will not be confronted with a case of Alabama rot over the course of their career.
What are the causes of the disease?
Although the exact causes of the disease are so far unknown, many possibilities have already been ruled including common bacterial infections and exposure to toxins.
There has been reports that an important number of dogs became sick during the colder months of the year, during the winter and the spring, suggesting a potential environmental trigger.
What should dog owners do?
Without knowing what the causes are, it's hard to come up with prevention strategies. Nevertheless, dog owners are recommended to consider washing their dogs when they become wet or muddy on a walk, but it's not clear if this really has any benefits.
If owners spot any of the symptoms, they must get their dogs to a vet as quickly as possible as early treatment increases survival chances.
The vet will confirm the diagnosis – in most cases it won't be Alabama rot. If it is, the vet may be able to refer the animal to a specialised clinic which has already dealt with the disease.
How are dogs treated?
Since the causes are unknown, there is currently no vaccine and no cure. In some cases, vets will recommend antibiotics or pain killers. In case of acute kidney failure, the dogs will require much more intensive management and the help of a specialised vet.