Mystery dog disease identified as 'Alabama rot'
After months of investigation, vets now believe they have identified the disease as 'Alabama Rot', which was discovered in the United States in the 1980s. The disease, which has a possible link to E.coli bacteria in soil, causes kidney failure. Affected dogs can initially develop lesions on their legs, paws or face up to a week after a walk in a wooded area disease then progresses to affect the kidneys. When this happens the affected dog will become lethargic, drink and urinate more.
Alabama Rot is more commonly seen in greyhounds, but there are fears that it is now beginning to affect other breeds.
'Go to your vet if you see a skin wound'
David Walker, of Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialists in Hursley, near Winchester, said: "What I would say is that if you see a skin wound on your dog then don't just leave it.
"Ordinarily you might say I'll leave that for 24-48 hours - I would say don't do that, get down to your local vet."
Anderson Moores first saw cases in December 2012 and since then vets have developed a "much better handle on what the disease is" according to David Walker.
Warning notices for Alabama Rot
The warning notices posted by the Forestry Commission will advise owners to take their pets to see the vet if their dog shows signs of developing lesions on its legs, paws or face.
While most of the 17 dogs which had died in the past year were based around the New Forest there have been reports of other cases in Surrey, Cornwall, Worcestershire and County Durham.
Although the source of the outbreak of Alabama Rot in the New Forest is yet to be identified, it is thought that the disease may be triggered by a toxin produced by a rare form of E. coli bacteria. However Mr Walker said his team had "looked very hard" for the bacteria, but failed to find any trace.
Separate 'Seasonal Canine Illness' in woodland areas
Meanwhile, The Animal Health Trust is still looking for the cause of another mystery illness, Seasonal Canine Illness, which has been associated with the deaths of 16 dogs which had been walked in wooded areas or parkland during the autumn months.
The onset of Seasonal Canine Illness appears to be rapid characterised by lethargy, vomiting and unconsciousness after being walked in wooded or parkland areas.
Five sites under investigation by AHT
The AHT is investigating cases of the illness at five sites; Sandringham Estate and Thetford Forest in Norfolk, Sherwood Forest and Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire and Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk.
Researchers have now discounted previous possible sources, such as fungi, algae or agricultural chemicals and are now focused on harvest mites. They believe that these insects are somehow implicated in the disease, possibly serving as a carrier, as many of the ill dogs had been bitten by these insects.