WITH five cases reported and one dog killed by Alabama rot in the space of a month, fears of a major outbreak are sweeping Swindon.

Amid concerns that the flesh-eating disease could claim more lives and infect scores of pets in the region, Purton Vets have called for calm.

“There is a lot of concern and almost panic among dog owners, that they’re going to be affected,” said Graeme Pack, clinical director at Purton Vets. “Around 100 dogs have had this disease in the country in the last three years. If you consider there are millions of dogs going on walks in woods and open land we should put the disease in perspective. This is a key message to get across.”

A cocker spaniel died just before Christmas after showing symptoms consistent with cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy, otherwise known as Alabama rot.

Two-and-a-half-year-old Pippa was taken to the Royal Veterinary College after developing lesions following a walk in West Woods in Marlborough. She had started to show signs of kidney damage. But plasma exchange and dialysis treatment could not save her.

Two cocker spaniels and a Labrador also needed life-saving treatment after being infected, it is believed, in West Woods.

A Doberman was rushed to Purton Vets after developing the flesh-eating bug. Thankfully the animal avoided kidney failure and recovered.

The rare condition causes skin lesions in dogs, which in some cases can lead to kidney failure and even death. The average time from showing skin lesions to kidney failure is two days but can be as long as 10. In England, the disease killed 30 dogs alone last year.

Alabama Rot was first identified in the US in the 1980.

Deaths in recent years have been as far apart as Cornwall, North Yorkshire and Northern Ireland.

Nearly 20 dogs died in the New Forest in a flare-up in 2013, with more cases reported in Surrey, Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire, County Durham and Norfolk.

Cases confirmed between November 2014 and May 2015 included Lambourn, in Berkshire, and Salisbury.

The disease was first believed to affect greyhounds but it has been found to hit a wide range of breeds.

Although the large concentration of cases in Swindon and the surrounding area is alarming, Mr Pack was keen to reassure owners. But he urged them to remain vigilant.

“We have not seen another case since,” he added. “We don’t know that woodlands are a problem per se. But dogs get sores on their belly, paws and lips in areas that get muddy so I would stay away from muddy areas. The vast majority of dogs that get skins sores will not get Alabama rot. It’s almost 99 per cent of the time not going to be Alabama rot. But if a dog has unexplained sores they should speak to their vet.”

The crux of the matter is that the cause of Alabama rot is still unknown. Although it is often characterised by sores to the legs, belly and lips - any part of the body likely to come in contact with mud – there is no test, vaccine or cure for the disease. Only a post-mortem can confirm whether a dog died from Alabama Rot.

While owners are heeding calls to remain vigilant, the question marks surrounding the disease have left many fearful and unsure how to protect their pooches.

Buffy Goodenough, of Brinkworth, has not left anything to chance with her Labrador Archie since news of reported cases first broke.

“I am very concerned even though I have been away in Cornwall over Christmas and the New Year,” she said. “There have been cases down there too but not as many as up here. Consequently I am not walking in our usual Webb’s Wood near Brinkworth. I am taking him out to the lakes at the water park or up on the Ridgeway. It is a real concern.”

Carley Young, of Pembroke Park, who breeds whippets with her wife, added: “Alabama rot is definitely a very big worry, we just don't know enough about it which is a big problem. We simply just will not take the risk. We usually go on whippet walks often at Coate Water and now we won't at the moment. It’s road walks at the moment and washed feet as soon as we are through the door.”

The panic and paranoia is truly taking hold among owners according to Jessie Bascombe, who founded Swindon dog foster caring charity SNDogs.

“Everyone is in a panic about it,” she said. “Our vets say they are seeing about five dogs a day with people panicking. So far they have not had a confirmed case. It is very worrying, We are sticking to street walking at the moment. But not enough is known about it.”

The loss of more animals would be disastrous to guide dog owners, who rely entirely on their pets to go about their daily lives.

"We are concerned about it and we would advise guide dog owners not to 'free run' their dogs in areas of concern,” said Alan Fletcher of Swindon Guide Dogs. “Not only does it affect guide dog owners by stopping their dogs from working and their owners from their independence, it would also affect the charity due to the cost of the vet bills to aid a full recovery of the dogs."

While woodland and any muddy paths in general should be avoided, particularly West Woods in Marlborough, Mr Pack is urging owners not to avoid fields and parks altogether and keep their pets unnecessarily cooped up.

“People are becoming worried to take their dogs anywhere,” he said. “I would consider Lydiard Park to be safe to walk as long as people stay away from muddy areas. I don’t want people to stop walking their dogs because of this.”


By Amber Hicks

SWINDON dog owner Jessica Worthington is amazed how much support her fundraising campaign has received after her dog Pippa was put to sleep because of suspected Alabama rot.

Within days, the 26-year-old has raised more than £7,000 to fund more research into the rare disease after four other dogs in Wiltshire, including her other cocker spaniel Molly and her friend’s cocker spaniel, showed symptoms.

“I cannot believe it, I am totally amazed how generous people have been and I am super overwhelmed,” she said.

“This disease has left a huge hole in my heart and I do not want any other dog owners to feel this heartache.”

The veterinary nurse, initially set a goal of £1,000 but within three hours of launching the online fundraising appeal this had been reached.

As the donations grow so does her target in the hopes she can raise as much money as possible so specialist vets in Winchester at Anderson Moores can continue to look for a cause, treatment and cure to the disease.

Her other dog Molly, who also developed sores on her paws in December, days after being walked in West Woods, Marlborough is recovering at home and being monitored by blood tests.

Jessica has also set up a dedicated Facebook page called Pledge for Pippa Stop Alabama Rot in memory of Pippa to raise awareness of the disease.

Although Pippa showed all the signs of the disease it cannot officially be confirmed until a post-mortem is carried out and tests are completed later this month.

Donations can be made at: crowdfunding.justgiving.com/jessica-worthington