Here’s Why Your German Shepherd Died Suddenly

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

A German Shepherd has a lifespan of 9 to 13 years, however, despite this, a German Shepherd may suddenly collapse and die without showing any signs or symptoms of illness or existing disease.

German Shepherd died suddenly

Causes of German Shepherd sudden death

Let’s take a deeper look into the causes of the sudden death of German Shepherds to understand more about how they affect a German Shepherd and lead to their death.

Heart Disease: Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle which is common in German Shepherds.

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 German Shepherd 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.

Gastrointestinal condition: Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat)

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) is a gastrointestinal condition that is life-threatening to German Shepherds.

The condition is common in large breed dogs and a common cause of death for German Shepherds.

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.

Underlying trauma

Traumatic injuries can cause internal bleeding in a German Shepherd 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 an aggressive cancer common in German Shepherds. The cancer usually develops in the spleen but also can develop in other organs.

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

Related: German Shepherd limping (Explained)


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?

  • When your dog suddenly dies, call your vet immediately and inform them of the situation. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Clean the area where your dog died if there is any fluid to prevent the spread of any contamination. 

How to protect your German Shepherd from common causes of sudden death

Protection against the causes of the sudden death of a German Shepherd can be done. Implement the following prevention strategies:

Early Diagnosis of heart disease

Medical checkups for a German Shepherd should be done to know the health status and risks of the development of heart disease.

Ask your veterinarian about the tests required for diagnosis. The veterinarian 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 German Shepherds 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 German Shepherds.

If you suspect that your German Shepherd 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 German Shepherd 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 German Shepherd 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 German Shepherd 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.

I hope this post helped you to understand why a German Shepherd can suddenly die, what to do when it happens and how to possibly prevent it in the future as a German Shepherd owner.