DOG owners have been warned to be on high alert after an extremely rare and deadly canine skin disease was diagnosed in Bolton for the first time.

There have only been 60 known cases of Alabama rot in the whole UK – a condition which begins with ulcers on the dog’s skin and lower legs before the rapid onset of kidney failure.

A six-year-old fawn-coloured lurcher, whose owner was from Westhoughton, was taken into the Darley House Veterinary Centre in Farnworth around lunchtime on Friday, December 11.

Principal vet at the centre, Dr Mike Nolan, said: “The worry is that this might be the beginning of a cluster of cases.

"If you think your dog might be presenting with this illness, it really is a case of drop everything and get to the vets.

“The death rate is very high. If it’s treated very early and very aggressively then it’s possible to save the dog.

“It comes on really very fast. It begins with ulcers on the skin, usually on the lower legs and the dog will appear to be unwell.

“This dog was brought in by the owner around lunchtime, looking very sorry for himself.

“He had an usual skin problem which we suspected could be a case of Alabama rot.”

Blood tests confirmed the dog’s rapidly deteriorating condition and the decision was taken to euthanize the animal.

Alabama rot, or Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy, can only be 100 per cent confirmed via post mortem.

The surgery sent biopsies of the lurcher to a specialist in Winchester yesterday, December 15, with the result coming back positive for Alabama Rot.

In recent weeks, the owner had been walking the dog on fields in the Daisy Hill area of Westhoughton, either side of Lower Leigh Road.

While it’s unknown whether the disease can be passed from animal to animal, or whether it is contracted by animals visiting certain locations, Dr Nolan warned that cases do tend to occur in clusters around the same location.

“Only 60 cases have ever been reported in the UK. Most cases are found in dogs that have recently walked in woodland. Cases ten to occur in autumn.

“Until recently we said that this couldn’t be passed from animal to animal. We’re unsure whether this is the case or whether animals that contract the disease have both visited the same spot.”

Very little is yet known about Alabama Rot. The disease was first diagnosed in Greyhounds in Alabama, USA. It’s not known whether the UK strain is the same or a variant of this infection.

The first UK cases were diagnosed in the New Forest in November 2012. There were three diagnosed cases in neighbouring Wiltshire this year.

While there is no known vaccine, some dogs may be able to fight off the disease if treated quickly enough.

  • What is Alabama Rot?

Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV), popularly known as ‘Alabama rot’ is a disease that has been known about since the late 1980s in the USA.

Since December 2012 a number of suspected and confirmed cases have been seen in counties throughout the UK.

Dogs reported with the disease can suffer kidney failure and/or skin lesions. The cause of the disease remains unknown.

While no exact cause is known, some experts theorise that it is caused by parasite or toxins produced by E. coli.

  • Context

Although reports come from people who have walked their dog in the countryside, the cause of the disease remains unknown.

It is important to remember that only a very small number of dogs have been affected.

Most skin lesions will not be caused by this disease and most cases of kidney failure will have another cause.

  • What should I look out for?

The skin lesions are a symptom of the disease rather than being traumatic wounds from an injury.

Typically, skin lesions occur below the knee or elbow, although they are occasionally seen on the face or bottom of the chest or abdomen.

They may present as a focal swelling, a patch of red skin or a defect in the skin – like an ulcer.

  • What should I do?

If you think that your dog is presenting with the illness, consult a vet immediately.

Remember that recognised cases case numbers are very low. Without knowing the trigger for the disease it is impossible to give specific advice about walking your dog.