Alabama Rot is spreading through Britain and killing dogs

Approximately 45 dogs in the UK have been killed by the disease

Updated: 

A flesh-eating disease that kills dogs seven days after they catch it is sweeping across the UK.

Experts have no idea what causes gruesome Alabama Rot - which begins with sores on the body before leading to kidney failure within three days, and death within a week.

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So far 15 dogs have died from the illness this year alone compared 19 died in 2016 and 21 in 2015.

Some 98 have died since it was first discovered in Britain at the end of 2012.

Vets have now called the first-ever Alabama Rot conference, taking place next Wednesday (May 10) in Reading, Berks., where experts will put their heads together as they desperately try to tackle the spread of the disease in Britain.

Vet David Walker, the UK's lead investigator into the condition, said: "It's a dreadful disease and is not specific to any particular age or breed.

"It's often a disease that affects otherwise young dogs in the prime of their lives.

Credits: Tim AndersonJess with her other dog Molly, who survived

"We don't want to create panic but we want to make people aware of this. "When we first recognised it at the back end of 2012 we thought it would be a few sporadic cases, but the disease is definitely persisting.

"The average time for dying, unfortunately, is just seven days. It can deteriorate very quickly.

"From the onset of kidney failure after three days - that's just four days until they are likely to die.

"We've done a huge amount of research but still do not know what causes it."

This year's cases have been found in Warwickshire, Monmouthshire, Dorset, Devon, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Worcestershire and Dublin - the first to appear in Ireland.

Credits: Tim AndersonMolly had the disease but lived

It has now plagued some 29 counties in total - and 85% of dogs who contract the condition die.

Mr Walker said experts suspect there 'might be an environmental trigger' to the illness but have sampled areas where dogs have been before contracting the disease, and found no evidence.

He said: "We don't want to stop people walking their dogs in nice places when we don't have 100% evidence that the trigger is environmental."

They are also examining whether some dogs have a predisposition to the disease.

Twelve Labradors have died from the condition in the UK - more than any other dog, while there have been 11 English Springer Spaniels, eight Whippets, seven Cocker Spaniels and seven Flat-Coated Retrievers.

Jess Worthington's dog Pippa died from Alabama Rot at the end of 2015, while her other dog, Molly, managed to survive.

She saw her sprightly two-year-old Cocker Spaniel deteriorate rapidly in days, as her organs failed and she was unable to even lift her head from the floor.

Credits: Tim AndersonJess saw her sprightly two-year-old Cocker Spaniel deteriorate rapidly in days

Credits: Tim AndersonJess found a lesion on Pippa's leg after a walk in the woods

The 27-year-old had taken her dogs along one of their favourite wooded walking routes near their home in Swindon, Wilts.

Two days later she returned home from work to find Pippa licking a lesion on her leg, and then discovered ulcer-like sores all over her body.

They started treatment straight away and sent Pippa to the Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialists near Winchester, Hants.

The centre, where Mr Walker is the head of medicine, first discovered the condition at the end of 2012 and is leading research into it.

Pippa was then transferred to the Royal Veterinary College in London, where she died exactly seven days after signs of the disease first appeared.

Credits: Tim AndersonJess has raised more than £12,000 for Anderson Moores' research into Alabama Rot

Ms Worthington said: "Her kidneys were horrific, her liver started failing, she was just not the same dog anymore - she couldn't even lift her head.

"She had been so full of life and it all just changed so quickly. It's horrible and such a complex disease, there's no reason for it."

Molly's kidneys did not fail and she managed to survive the scare after treatment.

Jess has raised more than £12,000 for Anderson Moores' research into Alabama Rot and will attend the conference on the disease next week.

How can I stop my dog getting Alabama rot?

Avoid taking your dogs for walks in muddy, wooded areas – especially if there's recently been heavy rainfall.

If that's unavoidable, make sure you wash your dog's paws and legs thoroughly when you get back from the walk.

Where did Alabama rot come from and what causes it?

The condition was first identified among greyhounds in the USA in the 1980s.

It's believed to be caused by toxins produced by bacteria such as E.coli but there is no scientific evidence to back this up.

Because the exact cause has not been found, developing a vaccine is tricky.

What are the symptoms of Alabama rot?

Look out for skin lesions, ulcers, sores or bite marks. Your dog could also become lethargic or suffer a loss of appetite.

Other signs include jaundice, such as a discoloration in your dog's eyes, gums or nostrils.

Vomiting or gagging have been observed in some cases at later stages of Alabama rot.

Kidney failure occurs in a minority of cases, however if it does occur, it usually proves fatal.

Are there any early warning signs?

The first sign normally seen is a skin sore not caused by any known injury.

These are most commonly found below the elbow or knee or on the belly or muzzle.

They appear as a distinct swelling, a patch of red skin or an ulcer-like open wound.

Within two to seven days, affected dogs develop outward signs of kidney failure, which can include vomiting, reduced hunger and an unusual tiredness and lack of energy.

Can Alabama rot be treated?

While no vaccination has been found, some dogs can fight off the disease and live with minimal damage.

Sadly, dogs with the disease tend to die because treatment is so limited, but some UK dogs with Alabama rot have been successfully treated in the years since 2013.

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