Alabama rot is 'every dog owner's worst nightmare'

Dog owners are being warned about a disease that has killed 15 dogs across the United Kingdom so far this year.

Alabama rot was first detected in the UK in 2012 and, since then, there have been around 100 confirmed cases across more than 20 counties.

The disease causes an animal to develop skin lesions which can then lead to organ failure. In 80% of cases, infected dogs die in just a few days.

Jessica Worthington's dog, Pippa, caught the disease in December 2015. The two-year-old cocker spaniel was in good health and had been enjoying her normal walks in woodland near Swindon where Ms Worthington lives.

The veterinary nurse told Sky News that the disease was "every dog owner's worst nightmare".

"Pippa was a little bit lame, so I thought immediately that she had jarred her leg or something.

"I brought her into work with me just to get her checked by one of the vets.

"We felt that we couldn't really find anything significant so I took her home that evening then the following morning was when I first noticed the skin lesions.

"It was literally like they appeared overnight - from nothing to these horrible ulcerated red nasty-looking ulcers on her limbs and on her trunk."

Pippa was taken to a specialist veterinary clinic but she quickly deteriorated, developing renal failure and dying just a week after being first admitted.

Despite the aggressive nature of the disease, and the high mortality rates associated with it, little is known about Alabama rot's cause or how it is spread. There is no known cure either so vets can only treat its symptoms.

The mystery nature of the illness has dog-owners worried.

At a popular dog walking spot in Ruislip, one owner told Sky News: "I don't know too much about it.

"I think of all these things we should be concerned about - but if you don't know what causes it and you don't know what the symptoms are really it's difficult to know what to do to try and protect your dog."

Another said: "I've never heard about it at all.

"I'd like to find out more about it and actually find out what happens to dogs and what actually occurs."

Veterinary experts are meeting in Reading, Berkshire, this week for a specialist Alabama rot conference. They will try to discover the cause of the disease as well as a possible cure.

For now, the advice from experts is to remain vigilant but not to panic.

Vet Richard Gowshall told Sky News: "Just looking statistically, if you are a dog owner, it's extremely unlikely that your dog is going to develop Alabama rot if the prevalence continues as it is.

"Most practising vets have not, and will not, see a case in their career.

"The sad thing is that if it is your dog that's affected, it is really, really devastating."

Alabama rot cases have been reported across the UK and Ireland and experts have said more dogs seem to fall ill during colder months, suggesting there may be an environmental trigger to the disease.

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