A RINGWOOD vet is exploring a theory which could finally identify the cause of a mysterious and deadly dog disease.

Cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV), known as Alabama Rot, has claimed the lives of 10 dogs in Dorset since 2012. The disease causes skin lesions on a dog’s paws or legs and can lead to kidney failure. The fatality rate is high, with only 15-20 per cent of dogs surviving the disease.

However, specialist fish vet Fiona Macdonald is investigating a possible link between Alabama Rot and a bacteria found in fish that causes similar symptoms.

In a document explaining her research, Dr Macdonald said: “Initial cases of CRGV (cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy) occurred in areas with substantial amounts of water (as a result of unusually high rainfall) in cold weather – both the running water and standing water were at 4 degrees Celsius for some weeks around the time of the cases. Only dogs appeared to be affected with no reported mortalities in wild ponies, foxes, cattle or deer.”

Dr Macdonald’s theory is that an organism called Aeromonas hydrophila, which causes skin lesions in fish with subsequent kidney failure, infects a dog’s skin, and then toxins produced by the bacteria travel to the dog’s kidneys, causing failure.

The organism can be found in fresh or brackish water, common bodies of water near popular dog paths.

“It is a very toxigenic organism, and the toxin, Aerolysin, has been well documented, and so the kidney failure is likely to be as a result of the toxins rather than from direct infection by the organism itself," Dr Macdonald said.

“This could explain why the organism has never been isolated so far in affected dog kidneys.”

The New Forest Dog Owners Group has helped fund her research, which has involved tests on blood samples from a number of suspected cases. The New Forest has seen some of the highest numbers of cases of Alabama Rot in the UK.

Chairman Heather Gould said: “We’ve given over £1,000 in funding to Dr Macdonald so far. We set up this fund for Alabama Rot research a good few years ago, when the first cases began to appear.

“Our treasurer at the time, Dr Ron Pearson, was quite enthused about the theory she put forward and saw it was one that needed supporting.”

She added: “It’s exciting as research into the disease is moving forward. I hope more light is shed on it as it’s very much a mystery.”

Dr Macdonald said without the help of the group, "none of this work would be possible".

She plans to test over 50 samples but says: "We have already isolated the candidate organism from one dog's skin lesion, and half of the dogs tested to date have shown a significant antibody response, which is very encouraging."

Two dogs in Dorset died from the disease last year alone.

Cocker Spaniel Maggie, from Bearwood, contracted Alabama Rot in March after being walked in Bearwood and the Canford Heath area.

Later that month, another dog died from the disease in Bournemouth. The dog had been walked in the Slades Farm and Talbot Woods area before it died.

David Walker, head of medicine at Hampshire vets Anderson Moores, the UK's leading authority on Alabama Rot, said: "This is an important organism to rule in/out as a cause of Alabama rot and Fiona is working hard to investigate the organism further.

"The work that Fiona has done will serve as a great stepping stone for either her or somebody else to take the work forward to truly rule Aeromonas in or out, as we don’t believe we have enough information yet.

"Ultimately, it would be fantastic to see the work published in the scientific literature.”