Darwin’s greyhound racing track closed over the weekend to sanitise the facilities. (ABC News: Lucy Marks)
Three racing greyhounds in Darwin have died from a rare flesh-eating disease caused by a bacteria that naturally occurs on the skin of dogs, and can turn deadly in humid climates.
The incident has temporarily shutdown Darwin’s racing industry as a precaution.
The dogs were among 120 greyhounds kept at Winnellie Race Track and were discovered separately over eight days, with skin lesions.
“The dogs were listless, a couple looked like they had impact bite marks like a spider or snake had bitten them,” Greg Aldam, secretary of the Darwin Greyhound Association said.
After being examined by a vet, the animals were euthanased.
Autopsies revealed the extremely painful condition was necrotising fasciitis, caused by the Streptococcus canis bacteria, which normally lives on the skin of dogs.
“The bacteria, if it penetrates into the skin, can cause these black lesions in a short space of time, toxic shock in dogs, and death within 12 hours,” Darwin vet John Chambers said.
If the disease is identified early enough, it can be treated with antibiotics and surgery, and death may be avoided.
The disease can spread among dogs by contact with an infected dog or from a contaminated environment.
But experts say racing greyhounds are more susceptible to the disease because of the way they are kept, and kennel hygiene is a factor.
“So we have something which is of great concern and something we should make sure the public don’t overreact about but understand the circumstances which its occurring,” Mr Chambers said.
Racing shutdown to sanitise, quarantine track
Mr Aldam said the club had started sanitising the facilities thoroughly before the results of the autopsy were confirmed on Friday.
Race day kennels are among the facilities that have been sanitised with hospital grade bleach. (ABC News: Lucy Marks)
“We’ve literally bombarded the place with bleaches, cleaning it up, lime around the ground; everything we could do in our knowledge,” Mr Aldam said.
“And when I found out yesterday afternoon [the results of the autopsy], whilst I was upset, in another sense I was relieved that we knew what we were dealing with and we were on the right track.”
One of the dogs which died had won a race the night before it succumbed to the disease.
“His weight was right, his health was right and he tried really hard on that night,” Mr Aldam said.
“I’d just say he’s flattened himself and he was vulnerable, and that’s what it comes down to, so every precaution and sanitary measures have to be taken.
“If a dog is open to it, it can take an effect, that’s where you have to be every individual dog has got to be treated with the kindest love and care.”
Racing at the track was suspended this weekend, but the club expects business to be back as usual next Saturday.