Update on Alabama Rot and Seasonal Canine Illness February 2018
Professor Steven Dean Chairman of the Greyhound Trust and Head of the Veterinary and Welfare Committee
Please remember that if you are at all concerned about the health of your greyhound to consult your vet immediately in the first instance.
With the more technical name of idiopathic cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV) this is a seasonal illness with the potential to be fatal. It was first identified in the USA during the 1980s in greyhounds (the colloquial name is a clue to where it first occurred).
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 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 seems to be an important factor. As yet no specific infection has been identified.
This leads to general advice to wash your dogs 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 recent news of an area associated with an outbreak.
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. Less than 100 dogs were reported with severe skin lesions or renal failure between November 2012 and April 2017 there are no figures on deaths but some authors claim 9/10 affected dogs will die. Despite the low numbers of affected dogs CRGV is a serious illness which can 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 recently 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 the 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, diarrhea 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 diarrhea 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 re-hydration 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 advice on prevention 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.
• 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. Keeping hydrated may help if your dog is affected by SCI and may prevent your dog from drinking from standing water.
• 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 be able to advise on the correct products.
• Tell others
Help to raise awareness of the disease amongst fellow dog owners.
This advice is provided by the Animal Health Trust although their advice is vague about the spray recommended for prevention of Harvest Mites (sometimes called “chiggers”) but it is in fact all spray formulations containing fipronil. This is largely because using this product for preventing harvest mite infestations is not an authorized use and does not therefore appear on the product labelling, thus should be prescribed by a veterinary surgeon.
Remember, if you are at all concerned that your greyhound may be unwell, you should always consult your vet immediately.
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 anesthetics 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 main 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 42is normal for an average canine, a greyhound with a PCV lower than 50 is considered anemic. 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; so many greyhounds are prescribed thyroid hormone supplements. This is usually unnecessary for greyhounds, as a lower
thyroid level is normal for them.
Greyhounds have significantly lower concentrations of protein and globulin than other breeds. Greyhounds’ white cell counts (WBC) are lower than average for other breeds. Their creatinine’s 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
Greyhound hearts differ from other dogs due to the breed’s athletic nature. Compared with other breeds, a greyhound’s heart is huge (very
close to the size of our hearts). This is especially true when they first come off the track and are still in racing condition, but can remain well into
retirement years. Many veterinarians who are unfamiliar with greyhounds believe they have heart murmurs when they hear a noise normally generated by turbulent blood flow in a diseased heart. For a greyhound, however, the noise is generated because of the massive amount of blood pushed through the heart with every beat, and is not normally an indication of a heart problem. If your veterinarian is concerned about this, an ultrasound examination can differentiate normal heart enlargement from a diseased heart. Greyhounds often run blood pressures on the high side of normal, and have slower heart rates than other dogs, again due to the athletic nature of the breed. At rest, 60-90 is normal, but it may be faster if excited (like at the vet’s office).
Greyhounds are more sensitive to anesthesia than other breeds, mostly because of their low body fat percentage (approximately 17% as compared to approximately 35% for other breeds). They are also slow to clear some anesthetic agents through their livers. It is very important that you use a veterinarian that is familiar with greyhounds if your greyhound will undergo sedation, since greyhounds generally require less sedation for their size than
other breeds. There are many safe anesthetic protocols that have been developed for greyhounds and other sight hounds. Ketamine in combination with Diazepam, as well as Propofol are widely used injectable anesthetics. The preferred gas anesthetic for greyhounds is normally Isoflurane or Sevoflurane. Often the safest anesthetic protocol is the one your veterinarian is most familiar with. The key is to use a vet that anesthetizes a lot of greyhounds and is familiar with their special anesthetic protocols.
Bald Thigh Syndrome
This is a condition seen in many greyhounds where hair loss is seen on thebackof the hind legs. It is a myth that bald thighs are caused by the greyhound lying at the back of their crate at the racing kennel. Greyhounds that have never raced and have never been crated have bald thighs. Bald thigh syndrome is not inflammatory and is not itchy. There is no known cause or specific treatment for this condition. In some greyhounds, it resolves a few
months after retirement from racing. In any case, it does not hurt your greyhound and you do not need to worry about it.
Greyhounds can be prone to developing corns on their footpads. The corns are attributed to the excessively thin fatty layer under a greyhound’s footpad as well as high contusive forces between the toe bone and the footpad. Corns usually occur when a greyhound does not strike the ground evenly when they walk or run. Corns can be surgically removed but usually recur. They can be filed flat with a Dremel or emery board so they do not cause pain, but this will need to be redone fairly frequently. A good product to use for a dog with corns is the rapaw boot, which will protect the greyhound’s foot when
walking on hard surfaces.
Osteosarcomas are the most common primary bone tumor in dogs. Like other large-boned dogs, greyhounds are one of the breeds that are prone to osteosarcoma as they age. Current research has shown that this condition may be genetic, and that it is not associated with your greyhound’s athletic career, the food he was fed at the racing kennel, or whether he was injured while racing. Studies are continuing at several leading universities in an attempt to learn more about the causes and treatment of this disease.
A myth we often hear is that greyhounds have worse teeth than other dogs. This is untrue. Like other breeds, some greyhounds have stronger, whiter teeth than others. We sometimes see an accumulation of plaque on a greyhound’s teeth; however, we have our vets clean their teeth before they are placed for adoption. You can help to keep your greyhound’s teeth clean and healthy by brushing 2-3 times a week with a good product such as Pet-Z-Life oral gel and using additives such as Tropi-Clean in their water. Providing chewies, Dent-A-Stix, Greenies, and other crunchy treats to your greyhound
regularly will also help to clean the teeth.
Greyhounds are Generally Healthy
On the other hand, greyhounds as a breed are healthy dogs who have few of the congenital conditions seen in other breeds, such as hip dysplasia, skin conditions, or eye problems. With proper care, greyhounds can live 12-14 years or longer. As more and more retired greyhounds find homes as pets, many more veterinarians will develop an understanding of the uniqueness of these beautiful, gentle athletes which will optimize their medical care.
For more information on greyhound health go to: - www.greyhoundhealthinitiative.org