Hints and Tips

about Caring for Greyhounds and Rescue Dogs

Update on Alabama Rot and Seasonal Canine Illness

Professor Steven Dean, Chairman of the Greyhound Trust and Head of the Veterinary and Welfare Committee | February 2018

Please remember that if you are at all concerned about the health of your greyhound, consult your vet immediately in the first instance.

Alabama Rot

With the more technical name of idiopathic cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV), this seasonal illness is potentially fatal. Alabama Rot was first identified in greyhounds in the USA (the colloquial name is a clue to where it first occurred) during the 1980s.

The initial symptoms are sores or ulcers on the legs, chest, and abdomen followed by signs of kidney damage. It is reported that the underlying pathology reveals damage to the skin and kidneys caused by a blood clotting disorder in the small blood vessels.

The consequential disruption of the blood supply results in areas of ulceration of the skin and reduced function in the kidneys. Because the kidneys seem to be affected quite severely, a catastrophic loss of renal function is highly likely and although the number of cases is low the likelihood of death in those cases is high.

The underlying cause has not been identified, but wet and muddy environmental conditions seem to be an important factor. As yet, no specific infection has been identified.

This leads to general advice to wash your dog’s legs and undercarriage to remove mud and dirt after a walk and at least wipe a dog clean after a wet or muddy walk, especially in woodland areas. Clinical cases are widely distributed throughout the country and there seems to be no justification for any assumption about regionality unless there is any recent news of an outbreak in a certain area.

Regular examination after walking is recommended. Look for skin damage. This should become the norm after an active countryside walk. The sore inflamed areas typical of CRGV can be confused with cuts and abrasions so if there is any doubt seek veterinary advice quickly.

The principal concern is the potential for kidney failure. Although there are no figures on deaths, some authors claim 9 out of 10 affected dogs will die. Despite the low number of affected dogs, CRGV is a serious illness which is best managed through prompt attention when symptoms occur.

The seasonality of the problem appears to be during winter and spring although cases have also occurred outside of these timelines.

Seasonal Canine Illness (SCI)

There is an illness in dogs which tends to occur during autumn although odd cases have occurred outside this seasonality. Given the way the UK climate has been developing, the differentiating line between autumn and winter is becoming less easy to determine and it is assumed this illness is subject to climatic conditions.

The seasonality suggests a specific agent is a cause, but so far nobody has determined what the underlying cause of the illness might be, although there is some suspicion that harvest mites might be part of the profile.

Another apparent characteristic of SCI is an association with dogs being walked in woodland areas. The clinical symptoms, however, are not highly specific as the illness presents with vomiting, diarrhoea, and lethargy. These are the signs associated with several forms of gastrointestinal upset and most owners will assume their dogs ‘has eaten something disagreeable’. It may well have, but SCI appears to be a far more serious condition compared to a ‘gastric upset’. An affected dog may also have any combination of abdominal pain, a fever, and muscular tremors.

The vomiting and diarrhoea can rapidly lead to dehydration and cases with severe symptoms, suffered for several days, may collapse, and die if not treated effectively. Nevertheless, most cases will recover over a 7-10 day period which is assisted by effective rehydration therapy, which in the early stages may demand an intravenous drip and intensive care. Thus, where SCI occurs early veterinary assistance is sensible.

The underlying cause of SCI remains elusive and given the autumn seasonality and specific regional associations with woodland walks, these should be key features in a diagnosis. The clinical signs are usually seen within three days of having roamed in a woodland area. Thus, preventative advice is fairly non-specific, and recommendations are limited as follows:

Be Vigilant: Closely monitor your dog’s health in the hours and days after a woodland walk, especially if you normally do not walk your dog(s) in the area (i.e., you are on holiday).

 Use a Lead: Keep your dog on a lead during a woodland walk so that you can keep an eye on them at all times.

Tell Others: Help to raise awareness of the disease amongst fellow dog owners.

Don’t Hesitate: Go to your vet immediately if you think your dog could have SCI - prompt veterinary attention could make the difference between life and death. If dogs get veterinary treatment quickly, they tend to recover well after a week or so.

Keep Hydrated: Make sure your dog is offered water before you set off on foot, especially if you have travelled a long way in the car for your walk. SCI may prevent your dog from drinking standing water, so please be vigilant about keeping them hydrated.

Think about Mites: Harvest mites have been commonly noted on dogs suffering from SCI, so it may help to preventatively spray dogs against mites before a walk. It is important to use a spray rather than a ‘spot-on’ product as the chemical barrier of a spray may be more effective at preventing a mite infestation and can be applied directly to the more exposed areas of the feet, legs, chest, and belly. Your vet will advise on the correct products.

When it comes to treatment, the Animal Health Trust advice is vague about recommending spray formulations containing fipronil to prevent Harvest Mites (sometimes called “chiggers”) because this is not an authorized use of the medication and therefore does not appear on the product labelling. Accordingly, only a qualified veterinarian should prescribe this. Please consult your vet immediately if you have any concerns about your greyhound’s health.

About Greyhounds

Greyhounds are not “regular” dogs. For hundreds of years, greyhounds have been selectively bred for speed, soundness, and good temperaments. This allows greyhounds to race together and makes them the fastest of all breeds.

In this pursuit, breeders have made greyhounds distinct from other dogs. They score differently on blood tests, have unique medical conditions, and don’t handle anaesthetics in the same way as other breeds. As a greyhound owner, you need to be aware of these differences when you visit your veterinarian.

Aspects of an Athlete

An obvious way that greyhounds differ from other breeds is that they have higher red blood cell counts. This is a practical advantage for an athlete because it boosts the oxygen-carrying capacity of his blood. This is also a major reason that greyhounds are so desirable as blood donors.

Veterinarians measure the number of red blood cells by spinning a tiny tube of blood in a centrifuge. The red blood cells separate from the plasma and pack at the bottom of the tube. The percentage taken up by the red cells is the packed cell volume (PCV). The normal range for a canine PCV is 42-62%. Greyhounds’ PCV ranges from 50-70%.

Though a PCV of 42 is normal for an average canine, a greyhound with a PCV lower than 50 is considered anaemic. Greyhounds can also run normally low platelets as compared to other breeds.

Greyhounds have significantly lower thyroid hormone (T4) levels than other breeds. Some veterinarians unfamiliar with greyhounds believe these levels indicate hypothyroidism, which is why they are often prescribed thyroid hormone supplements. This is usually unnecessary for greyhounds, as a lower thyroid level is normal for them.

They also have significantly lower concentrations of protein and globulin than other breeds. Greyhounds’ white cell counts (WBC) are lower than average for other breeds. Their creatinines are higher than what is normal for other breeds as a function of their large lean muscle mass. An elevated creatinine level is not indicative of impending kidney failure if the BUN and urinalysis are normal. Urinalysis in greyhounds is the same as in other breeds.

Below is a chart provided to us by the Greyhound Health Initiative, which shows the relative lab work results for a greyhound as compared to “regular” dogs. Please make sure your veterinarian is familiar with these differences when reviewing your greyhound’s lab work results.

Normal Greyhounds Other Breeds
HCT/PCV 50% – 70% 42% – 62%
WBC 3.5 – 6.9 5.8 – 20.3
Platelets 110 – 205 173 – 497
Total Protein 4.8 – 6.3 5.1 – 7.1
Globulin 1.7 – 3.0 2.2 – 3.9
Creatinine 1.0 – 1.7 0.6 – 1.6
Total T4 (nMol/L) 8 – 20 20 – 33

Need to Know More?

We are more than happy to answer any enquiries about looking after our rescue dogs.

Ask Us Anything