Why did our Great Dane have a sudden death?

Our question this week was:

Dear Dr. Debra,

One of our twin Great Danes died recently of a sudden death. She was in very good health and only 17 months old. They stay inside except to play or relieve themselves. April 22 I gave them a dog biscuit and left them to play in the back yard about 15 minutes as I went to greet my husband home from work. When I returned to bring them inside a few minutes later, Jubilee did not respond, had a blue tongue and was not breathing. We tried cpr and called the vet who asked about a possible snakebite. We didn’t find any marks on her body or snakes around. They never even ate their treats, which was very unusual. A few days later I saw on TV about Sea World dolphins that collided in mid-air causing one to die suddenly. Could this also happen to great Danes? I ask because they did play rough at times rearing up at each other like horses or bonking each other causing one to fall down sometimes. We have no clues other than this. Also because I went into shock myself, ending up in hospital, my husband buried her and no autopsy was done. The vet told us large dogs have heart attacks sometimes, but I can’t help but wonder. The other twin is doing fine. Thank you for any help you may have.Ann C.

PS. I really enjoy your site and look for the emails every day. Thanks for taking the time to do this.


Hi – thanks for your email. Ann, I’m so sorry for your loss. It is hard to understand how and why something like this can happen. Without a necropsy – there is no way for me to know for sure why she died.

The first thing I’d think of as a cause for sudden death is a heart arrhythmia. Some dogs can have underlying heart conditions that can cause the heart to go into an abnormal rhythm that can be fatal. In this situation – there may be no previous symptoms and no way for you to know there was a problem. And there is nothing you could have done differently.

It is unfair that this happened. I hope you take comfort in knowing that you gave her the best life possible.

As far as her littermate – I’d probably do the following. I’d find out from the breeder if any other dogs have had any problems. I’d do basic blood work – complete blood count and diagnostic profile to determine if everything checks out okay. I’d also have an EKG or cardiology consult done. I don’t know if there is a board certified cardiologist in your area but if there is – I’d talk to your veterinarian and organize having a consult done. Tell the cardiologist that the littermate had sudden death and you want to determine if there are any heart abnormalities. This is being overly cautious but will help give you information if there is any problem with your remaining dog.

A couple articles that might be interesting to you are:

Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs (DCM) – (heart condition that can occur in this breed.

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat) – (common problem in dogs – especially great Danes which can also cause death).

Again, I’m sorry for your loss.


Dr. Debra

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