Sudden Death in Dogs

Sudden death in Husky

Question: Greetings,

My 6 yr old Husky (Specs) died in his sleep Tuesday night, 11/22. He was in excellent health and was very active indoor dog. We went to bed around 10, he slept in his usual spot at the foot of the bed. When we awoke to take all 3 dogs for a walk, he was cold and stiff. Best I can tell, he had been gone for a few hours. My wife and I are very light sleepers and would have noticed even a small struggle. Our vet suggested that he may have had a heart attack or stroke. He was at the vet 30 days ago for his semi-annual visit. Everything was fine then.

My neighbor almost lost his dog to Ehrlichia a year ago. Looking back now, Specs had slowed down a bit recently and we did find a small amount of yellow vomit in the areas he frequented. Is it possible he had become infected and we missed it?

Are there other possible explanations for a relatively young, healthy dog to die suddenly like that?

I'm taking the other 2 to the vet today for a full blood profile for Kodiak (14yr old Alpha male - Shep/Dobie mix) and Sunni (8yr old female Rot mix).

I recently used your site when Kodiak got sick and was stumbling around the house. I thought it was a stroke, until I saw "vestibular disease" on your web site. I took him to the vet and they confirmed it. He is still a bit wobbly, but doing better.

Thanks for the help, sorry if the questions are a bit random.

These are tough times in the Adams pack.


Answer: Rob-

True sudden death (which seems to be what you are describing) is a fairly rare event in dogs. There are a number of reasons that this can occur and I probably won't think of all of them, but here is a partial list:

hypoadrenocorticism (Addison's disease)

subaortic stenosis (a defect in the aorta that can cause sudden death)


thromboembolic events (usually pulmonary) -- blood clots that lead to sudden death

cardiomyopathy (weakness of the heart muscles, can occur secondary to viruses or parasites like Neospora caninum in dogs)

supraventicular tachycardia -- this is the event that is probably most commonly called a "heart attack" in dogs, even though it is not like heart attacks as are seen in humans, ischemia of the heart muscle due to arterial blockage, which are fairly rare in dogs (although they do occur . Other types of arrhythmia are also possible causes of sudden death.

bleeding events -- these can occur for no apparent reason but we see sudden death from hemangiosarcoma tumors which occur due to bleeding induced by the tumors and it is sometimes the first sign of a problem. I think of these as being among the more common causes of sudden hemorrhage in patients six years of age or above

toxins --- usually there are some signs associated with toxins but carbon monoxide poisoning (not likely since everyone else is OK) would cause death without much in the way of clinical signs

strokes are also uncommon in dogs but do occur sometimes, especially in dobermans

parasites -- there are reports of sudden death associated with lungworm infection, Neospora caninum infection, roundworms, hookworms and heartworms in dogs.

These are the causes of sudden death that I can come up with. I am not sure that this list is all that helpful since it would take a post-mortem examination to rule in or rule out many of these problems. However, most of them are not contagious or likely to affect more than one dog in a household, so hopefully that will hold true for your household.

I don't know why bad things seem to happen in bunches but it often seems like that is the case. I hope that Kodiak has continued to improve. I am sorry to hear about Specs.

Mike Richards, DVM 11/27/2000


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...