There have been several reports in the media last week, about several unexplained deaths in dogs which had recently been walked in woodland areas, primarily in the New Forest, but also in several other areas, as far afield as Durham.

The first recorded case was reported in December 2012; however a significant cluster of cases have been noted in the last few months.

These dogs initially develop ulcers on their lower legs and muzzle, followed by acute kidney failure 2 to 7 days later. The ulcers can be up to 4cm long, and may initially appear as puffy swellings; they are unusual in that they are linear, unlike typical round or oval ulcers caused by infection, chemical burns etc.

Histology shows extensive damage to blood vessels within the skin, and kidneys, which become blocked. Kidney failure follows.

The condition appears similar to ‘Alabama Rot’, seen in the 1980’s in US greyhounds, although the UK version appears to have some differences. The US version has been associated with toxins from E coli infection, but this is not yet confirmed to be the cause of the UK version. Other suggested causes include adder bites, and other chemical, fungal or bacterial toxins.

Without confirmed cause it is difficult to give sound advice to dog owners.

However, sensible precautions would include:

• avoid woodland walks if alternatives are readily available

• prevent your dog from drinking from streams and ponds outside

• wash and rinse your dog well after walks, before they have the opportunity to lick themselves dry and clean

If in doubt, especially if typical linear ulcers are seen on lower limbs, please consult your vet immediately; although there is a high mortality rate associated with this condition, intensive treatment can significantly increase the survival rate