Bernese Mountain Dog Sudden Death: Why It Happens

The unexpected loss of your dog is very painful especially because there is nothing that prepares you for it.

It just happens with no warning signs or sometimes without a history of a current existing ailment.

Understanding what happened, the how, and why helps us to have closure from our loss.

In this article, we will learn the causes of sudden death, what to do when your dog suddenly dies, and a future precaution on how to protect your dog from common causes of sudden death.

A Bernese Mountain Dog may suddenly die because of  cardiac disease known as dilated cardiomyopathy or because of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus, a complication of bloat, which is a common life-threatening Bernese Mountain Dog health condition. Other causes of the unexpected sudden death of Bernese Mountain Dogs include underlying trauma and poisoning.

A Bernese Mountain Dog has a lifespan of 7 to 10 years, however, despite this, a Bernese Mountain Dog may suddenly collapse and die without showing any signs or symptoms of illness or existing disease.

Causes of Bernese Mountain Dog sudden death

Let’s take a deeper look into the causes of the sudden death of Bernese Mountain Dogs to understand more how they affect a dog and lead to their death.

Bernese Mountain Dog sudden death

Gastrointestinal condition: Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat)

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) is a gastrointestinal condition that is life-threatening to a Bernese Mountain Dog.

The condition is common in large breed dogs and can cause the of death of a Bernese Mountain Dog. During the early stages of GDV, the stomach fills up with gas which causes bloat, then progresses to the twisting of the stomach.

The twisted stomach and its pressure on large veins in the abdomen which return blood to the heart compromise blood circulation throughout the body. Vital organs are deprived of oxygen and blood which results in system shock that causes sudden death within a few minutes to a few hours.

The symptoms of bloat come up quickly and worsen rapidly. These symptoms include a distended stomach, dry heaving, and excessive drooling.

Heart Disease: Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle which is common in the Bernese Mountain Dog. The disease causes the heart to lose its ability to pump blood which causes poor circulation resulting in an irregular heart rate leading to heart failure. 

The disease develops slowly and may have a sudden onset of symptoms which can cause a Bernese Mountain Dog to develop congestive heart failure in just a few hours.

The sudden symptoms of DCM include rapid heavy breathing when sleeping or resting, difficulty in breathing, restless sleeping, severe drooling, a blue tongue, weakness, coughing or gagging, distended belly, collapsing or fainting followed by sudden death.

Underlying trauma

Traumatic injuries can cause internal bleeding in a Bernese Mountain Dog which leads to sudden death.

The causes of Injuries include falls from high places, being hit by a car or object, or the rupture of a tumor. These injuries can cause internal bleeding and sudden death.

Hemangiosarcoma is cancer that can develop in a Bernese Mountain Dog. The cancer usually develops in the spleen but also can develop in other organs.

It rapidly spreads, bursts and a Bernese Mountain Dog collapses and dies suddenly. All this happens without their owner knowing what is happening within their dog. 


Poisoning is also a common cause of sudden death which may cause seizures, internal bleeding, difficulty in breathing, and death.

Poisoning can be from ingestion of toxins such as chemicals found around the home, prescription medication or over-the-counter medications, some human foods such as garlic or snake bites.

Symptoms of poisoning are present before death occurs but can suddenly progress and cause death.

What should you do when your dog dies suddenly

  1. When your dog suddenly dies, call your vet immediately and inform them of the situation. 


  1. The vet will advise on the next steps. They will suggest an autopsy to determine the cause of death as well as methods of disposal. If you wish for them to handle the disposal, they will organize for collection thereafter a cremation or burial will be organized depending on your preference.


  1. Wear gloves and move your dog to an area in your home that is cool to wait for the collection of the dog’s body.


  1. Clean the area where your dog died if there is any fluid to prevent the spread of any contamination. 


How to protect your Bernese Mountain Dog from common causes of sudden death

Protection against the causes of the sudden death of a Bernese Mountain Dog can be done. Implement the following prevention precautions:

Early Diagnosis of heart disease

Medical checkups for a Bernese Mountain Dog should be done to know the health status and risks of the development of heart disease.

Ask your vet about the tests required for diagnosis. The vet may advise tests including cardiac ultrasound, electrocardiograms (ECG), blood tests, and X-rays. 

Dilated cardiomyopathy is not curable but early diagnosis allows for treatment to help control the symptoms and prevent complications.

Management of the disease is through diet and medication which significantly helps in the control of the disease. 

The ideal time for diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is before the onset of the symptoms which helps in the management of the disease in the early stages.

The prognosis of a Cane Corse that already have the symptoms is bad and many do not live for a long time.

Prevention of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) or bloat complication, is a very serious life-threatening condition common in Bernese Mountain Dogs.

If you suspect that your Bernese Mountain Dog has bloat which quickly develops to GDV, immediately take them to the nearest pet emergency center and consult your vet.

The best preventive measure against GDV is through preventive surgery called prophylactic gastropexy or stomach tacking to prevent the occurrence of its complications.

Prevention of injuries

Traumatic injuries of dogs can be prevented by taking appropriate precautions to protect them from harm’s way.

For example, keep your Bernese Mountain Dog indoors or in a well-fenced backyard, and also have them on a leash during walks in busy places or parks.

Secure windows in your house to prevent falls from high places and supervise them on balconies.

Protection from poisoning

Ensure all toxic substances in your home are kept away from your Bernese Mountain Dog in an area they cannot access.

Also, learn more about the different foods and household products that are dangerous to your dog and keep them away from them.


The death of your Bernese Mountain Dog is a very painful experience especially when it’s unexpected.

Knowing why it happened can give one peace of mind as well as having better knowledge on how to prevent it from happening again with another dog as well as being prepared in case it does happen.

For more information on the Bernese Mountain Dog, breed information, health, behavior and care, feel free to check out the Bernese Mountain Dog guide for owners.