DOG owners in the New Forest are being urged to be on their guard amid fears a deadly disease is about to return.

At least eight dogs in the district have been killed by a condition known as Alabama Rot, which causes skin lesions followed by acute kidney failure.

The disease usually stays dormant in the summer, only to resurface in the winter.

Dogs that develop Alabama Rot are normally referred to specialist veterinary practice Anderson Moores, based at Hursley, near Winchester, which is warning pet owners to be extra vigilant as the danger period approaches.

No one knows what causes the disease but new research is being carried out in a bid to find a cure.

Some experts believe it may be triggered by a rare form of E.coli living in rotting vegetation or in woodland waters such as streams or ponds, which could explain why so many cases have occurred in the New Forest.

The district council is urging people to consult a vet immediately if their dog develops a lesion on its legs or face.

A spokesman said: “This may be hard to spot but you may notice your dog licking itself more than usual.

“Additionally, if your dog becomes quiet, starts vomiting or stops eating, then seek advice from your vet.”

The authority is also urging dog owners not to panic.

“Although the problem is being treated very seriously, many thousands of dogs are walked in the countryside every day and it’s important to remember that only a very small number have been affected,” said the spokesman.

David Walker, one of the vets at Anderson Moores, spoke at a meeting of the New Forest Dog Owners’ Group.

He said the disease had killed a total of 45 dogs across the UK. The New Forest had seen 15 confirmed cases, including eight deaths, and 11 unconfirmed cases.

Fellow vet Fiona MacDonald said the condition could be related to a fish disease.

She revealed that tests were being carried out in a bid to establish if lesions found on dogs struck down by Alabama Rot were similar to those that had been found on salmon.

As reported in the Daily Echo, dogs are the only four-legged creatures affected by the disease.

Pets that died after being walked in the Forest include three-year-old Harley, who became ill after cutting his leg in the Holmsley area.

Sarah Thairs’s fox terrier Tegan also succumbed to the toxin.