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Ask the Vet – Sudden Deaths in Dogs

Ask the Vet

Losing a pet is always sad, but when a dog dies a sudden death it leaves us feeling helpless. We ask ourselves what could  have caused this. What, if anything, could I have done to keep it from happening?   Our resident veterinarian Dr. Billi Tiner provides some insight into the things that would cause a sudden death.

Do you have a question for Dr. Tiner?  Leave your question in our comment section or send me an email to If your question is answered, you will receive a small gift bag. If you would like to sponsor a gift, please let me know. 

Question: My dog Bella died suddenly with no warning. She threw up her food, twice, the second time she collapsed and her stomach started convulsions. She threw up 4 more times, slime and foam; then she apparently tried one last time to get up but her body shook real bad, and she died in my arms. I took her to the local veterinarian but he could not tell me much without an autopsy, her body temperature was 103 when she died. Any idea what could have caused this?

Dr. Tiner: I am very sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.  It is always hard to say goodbye to a pet, and it is even harder when they die suddenly.  I can’t give you a specific cause for her death.  There are several factors that come into play, such as the dog’s age, breed/size, general health prior to her death, did she have a habit of chewing/eating non-food items, etc.  However, I can give you some ideas of possible causes based on the information that you shared.

In healthy, young, large-breed dogs, such as the German Shepherd, one of the most common things to cause sudden death with associated gastric symptoms is a twisted stomach.  Basically, what happens is that the dog inhales a large amount of air while eating and the stomach becomes distended.  If they exert themselves heavily (running, playing, etc) right after eating (while the stomach is still distended), then it can turn over causing a twist in the bowel.  The bowel becomes strangulated and loses its oxygen supply.  This leads to sudden death.  The best way to avoid this is to feed the dog with the bowl elevated and not allow the dog to have heavy exercise immediately after eating.

Another common thing to occur in young dogs is they often eat things they shouldn’t.  This could be anything from a foreign object, like a rock, to a poisonous substance, like anti-freeze or rat poison.  There are several different substances that are poisonous to dogs and can cause the symptoms that you described. Also, a foreign object big enough to become trapped in the stomach or a loop of bowel could cause similar symptoms.  Dogs with a foreign body in the stomach will usually have symptoms of vomiting for a few days before it causes death.  It is amazing what some dogs will eat.  I once had a patient (English Bulldog) who had eaten a shower curtain!

In older dogs, there are numerous disease processes that could have caused the symptoms you described.  These include renal disease, liver disease, heart failure, and seizures.  These diseases are usually accompanied by a longer history of disease than it appears you are describing.

Finally, there are several infectious agents such as bacterial infections, heartworms, viruses such as Parvovirus, and intestinal parasites that could affect both young and old dogs.

I hope that you found this information helpful.  And again, I am sorry for your loss.

About Dr. BilliTiner:

Dr. Tiner has been a been a veterinarian for over 15 years.  She is also an author of children’s books.  All of her books have animals as the main character and are written from the animal’s point of view.  Her current novels include, Welcome Home, Heart of a Hero, and Friends for Life. To learn more about Dr. Tiner and her books visit You can also follow her on Twitter @Tinerbooks or on Facebook


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