Pet owners are being warned of an outbreak of a flesh-eating disease which has killed at least five dogs in two months and left many others fighting for their lives.
Alabama Rot is fatal in 90 per cent of cases and can kill in just three days, but it is not known what causes it.
Owners have been told to look out for lesions appearing on their dogs’ skin and paws which can be a sign of the killer.
The disease was first identified in the USA in the 1980s when it appeared to only affect greyhounds.
But worryingly it is now striking dogs in this country irrespective of their breed with cocker spaniels and labradors among the victims so far.
Veterinary specialists Anderson Moores say there have been confirmed deaths in Abbeyfield, Staffs., Chandlers Ford, Hants., Bolton, Lancs. and London since October.
Two cocker spaniels were also infected in Marlborough, Wilts., last week, and one was put to sleep four days later because her kidneys deteriorated beyond repair.
Experts say they have identified 60 known cases of Alabama Rot in the UK since it was discovered in the New Forest, Hants., in 2012.
The vet who had to put down the lurcher in Bolton said the recent spike in cases could be the start of an outbreak.
Dr. Mike Nolan of the Darley House practice in Farnworth, Grtr Manchester, was forced to euthanise the six-year-old pet three days after it was admitted.
He 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.”
The first signs of Alabama Rot are lesions and ulcers which quickly develop into sore, open wounds.
Over the following two to ten days dog develop clinical signs of kidney failure which can include vomiting, reduced appetite and tiredness.
There is currently no known way of preventing a dog from catching the disease but they can fight it off is treated quickly enough.
There is also no way to test whether a dog has Alabama Rot when it is alive, and infection can only be 100% confirmed via post-mortem.
David Walker, head of internal medicines at vets Anderson Moores, from Winchester, Hants, who are monitoring the spread of the disease, warned owners to be “vigilant” and not ignore warning signs.
He said: “The signs to look out for are often little lesions below the knee or elbow and circular or like an ulcer.
“The hair will fall off which will get the dog’s attention and they may start licking it. However, the difficulty is not all the lesions will look the same.
“Be vigilant and if people are worried they should go to their local vets.”
He added: “There is a suggestion that there is an environmental factor.
“We don’t have clear evidence to back that up, but it can’t not help to wash down your dog after a walk.”
The owner of a cocker spaniel which had to be put down after becoming infected with Alabama Rot last Friday said she wants others to be aware of what the virus can do.
The woman, who asked not to be named, said she took her two dogs for a walk and they seemed fine until two days later, when lesions appeared on their legs overnight.
The dog was referred to specialists Anderson Moores by her local vet, before being treated at the Royal Veterinary College in London, but had to be put down on Tuesday.
The woman said: “It was heartbreaking but there was no other decision we could make. She was two and a half years old and had been as fit as a fiddle.
“My dogs were both given exactly the same treatment and one went on to develop kidney failure and the other one has had nothing more than the lesions.
“I just want to make sure that other dog owners are aware of the situation now because, up until now, even quite a few vets didn’t know much about it.”
Huw Stacey, director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “The concern among vets in the UK is that unlike the Alabama rot that affected greyhounds in America, the disease in the UK does not seem to target any specific breed, age, sex or weight of dog.”
The Forestry advised owners to keep an eye on what their dogs are picking up, eating and chewing.
Dog owner Helen Kelly, of Marlborough, posted an alert on Facebook after she discovered an ulcer on her labrador Mabel’s paw.
She said: “The only reason I knew to be suspicious was because I had seen things on the Marlborough notice boards about the disease in the West Woods.
“She is a three-year-old bouncing Labrador and she was less bouncy than normal.”
Mabel was rushed to a local vet who put her on a drip before she was transferred to Anderson Moores where she is now in a stable condition.
Helen added: “She will remain on an IV for at least 5 days to monitor her kidney function but frighteningly if her kidney function does start to deteriorate there is nothing they can do for her.
“Mabel is a young fit and healthy dog so we have to remain hopeful that she will be OK.
“But I only added up the symptoms by being vigilant – and thanks to all the warnings I had read on Facebook.”