In the 1980s, many greyhounds at a race track in Alabama became seriously ill. They developed lesions on their legs, chest and abdomens, which later led to kidney failure. Many of the dogs died.

The same disease was later recognized in Florida, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Colorado. It appeared limited to greyhounds. Because of its origins, it was nicknamed "Alabama rot," although veterinarians officially dubbed it cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV).

The canine illness never spread to other breeds in the United States, but now a similar illness is spreading indiscriminately to dogs in the United Kingdom.

According to Greyhound Companions of New Mexico, Alabama rot is thought to be linked with toxins produced by bacteria such as E. coli, which is commonly found in the raw meat that racing greyhounds are fed.

Greyhound advocacy groups have alleged that breeders and racers looking to save money have long used cheap meat that may harbor bacteria. Grey2K USA says, "At racetracks across the United States, dogs are fed a diet based on '4-D' meat. This is meat derived from dying, diseased, disabled and dead livestock that has been deemed unfit for human consumption."

The meat is fed raw, which is how toxic bacteria may have managed to impact the dogs affected by Alabama rot, say veterinarian Karen Becker of Mercola Healthy Pets.

Alabama rot in the U.K.

greyhound racing at track Alabama rot first showed up in the U.S. in racing greyhounds. (Photo: EcoPrint/Shutterstock)

A similar illness has been affecting dogs in the U.K. with some of the same symptoms, but it's not limited to greyhounds and likely has no link to diet.

"The dog’s signs/symptoms, blood test and postmortem kidney and skin test changes are all very similar to those reported in the greyhounds in the USA," veterinarian David Walker, the U.K.’s leading expert on Alabama rot, from Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialists, tells MNN. "The cause of Alabama rot in the U.S. was and is unknown. The cause of CRGV in the U.K. is also currently unknown and at this stage, we cannot confirm that the disease we are seeing in the U.K. is definitely exactly the same."

Because cases of Alabama rot tend to be seen between October and May in the U.K., veterinarians suspect there's a seasonal, environmental trigger for the disease, Walker says. There are likely other factors, as well, such as a dog's genetic predisposition, "Especially given the fact that many dogs are walked in the same geographical location as an affected dog without ever developing the disease," he points out.

Can it be prevented or treated?

Cases of Alabama rot have increased each year since it first was diagnosed in the U.K. in 2012, according to the Telegraph. There were six cases that year, increasing to 19 in 2016, then 40 in 2017. As of late March 2018, there have been 29 cases diagnosed.

Researchers are no closer to knowing what triggers the illness or how to stop it.

"As the cause of the disease is currently unknown, there is sadly no scientific-based preventative advice that we can give," Walker says. "As an environmental trigger is possible, some people have suggested washing dogs after a muddy walk."

The first sign in most dogs is a sore or skin lesion. These sores often show up below the elbow or knee, but occasionally have been spotted on the dog's body or face. About three days after the sore pops up, dogs can develop signs of kidney failure, including lack of appetite, vomiting and fatigue, according to Walker.

Dogs that only develop skin lesions survive. But when the disease progresses to kidney failure, the mortality rate is as high as 85 percent.

"On the basis of our current understanding of the disease, the best advice we can give to pet owners is to be vigilant," Walker says. "If they see an unexplained skin sore/lesion then they should go and visit their local vet. The disease is very rare, and the vast majority of skin sores/lesions will have another cause."

Walker says he is not aware of any recent reports of Alabama rot in the U.S.

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.