Ask Dr. Chris

Tragic Dog Illnesses Can Be Tough To Diagnose

Dear Dr. Chris,

My Grandparents lost their dog last week. A very weird way. He had displayed no problems previously. But during the evening got up and had a continuous flow of liquid from his mouth. He was even choking on it. Then he began having seizures. The vet said he had seen nothing like it before. They had to put their dog down. I would think this was an odd one time issue, but I found out today another family member’s dog was lost to the same exact symptoms. the liquid was frothy in substance at times. Is there any recalls on drugs or food that have been found to cause these kinds of symptoms and death? I have been checking the recall lists, but without further information I’m not sure where to turn. Do you have any thoughts?

Valerie 

Hi Valerie, thank you for your question and I hope I can help.

I’m so sorry for your loss.  The death of a beloved pet is very difficult, no matter the circumstances.

These symptoms don’t fit with a commercial dog food contamination reaction or toxicity.  Most of the recalls in recent years are related to Salmonella contamination which causes vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia and lethargy.  Dogs then become carriers of the infection and can be a source of infection in people.

Without knowing the breed and age of these two dogs, it can be difficult to speculate on what may have happened but I will give you my thoughts.

I have worked as a general practitioner and emergency veterinarian and have seen many acutely sick dogs.  Many times we can recognize conditions and diseases based on a physical exam and history of what has been going on.  Other times, extensive diagnostic tests are needed to make a diagnosis.

The most likely causes of these dramatic changes would either be a toxicity, acute heart failure or bloat (gastric dilatation volvulus).

If your grandparents are in an area where mushrooms are a problem, this may have been a mushroom toxicity.  I have seen a number of cases such as this recently.  There was severe salivation, vomiting, diarrhea and extreme weakness.  They can cause seizure activity and can also slow the heart down to the point of it stopping.

Dogs that go into acute heart failure will sometimes have frothy liquid coming up from the airway and can change very quickly although seizures are not typical.

The other thing that can sometimes cause this dramatic change is a condition that you may have heard of called GDV.  This is the same condition that claimed the life of Marley in the book/movie “Marley & Me”.  It is most common in large, deep chested dogs such as Great Danes, Setters, Pointers and Shepherds.

Dogs with GDV suddenly become distressed with repeated attempts to vomit, retching and often will have large amounts of phlegm due to their inability to swallow.  They become progressively more distressed and weak.  I think that this is low possibility because your grandparents veterinarian would have recognized this.

These are some of the more common causes of the symptoms that you describe.  I wish I could give you a more definitive answer to ease your mind.  Unfortunately, there is no way to definitively solve this mystery.

Take care,

Dr. Chris Smith
America’s Favorite Dog Vet

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Doris Lehr

    Oct 18, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    My 13 yr old pom started frothing from the mouth, then drooling profusely. Had a seizure. Vet saw she had also gone blind…probably as a result of the seizure. Was sent to a vet specialist in neurology for an MRI. By the time we reached there my dog could no longer sit up or stand. She lost all body control. The diagnosis was massive brain tumor on right side. Prognosis not good. She went to Rainbow Bridge that night. All of this happened within a 12 hr period of time on August 30, 2013.

  2. Brittany

    Oct 17, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Oh gosh. I’m sorry, I totally misread it. Nevermind…

  3. Brittany

    Oct 17, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    You wrote “Dogs with GDV suddenly become distressed with repeated attempts to vomit, retching and often will have large amounts of phlegm due to their inability to swallow. They become progressively more distressed and weak. *** I think that this is low possibility because your grandparents veterinarian would have recognized this.

    I highly doubt a board certified Veterinarian would miss GDV or “Bloat” as it’s commonly called. Most veterinarians treat it regularly! There are many breeds which can develop it and if veterinarians do not know about GDV there is seriously something wrong with the schooling of those veterinarians…

  4. rhianna laverell

    Oct 17, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    My dog had similiar symptoms when she had a suspected pulmonary embolism (blood clot) due to cushings disease. She was an english bulldog though.
    We took her to 2 emergency clinics in one night and she collapsed at the last one in cardiac arrest. it was horrible and haunts me to this day. Sorry for their loss. The vet said sometimes dogs suddenly die just like humans in trajic ways.

  5. Tara

    Oct 25, 2012 at 9:00 am

    So sorry about the 2 losses.
    I was wondering, could they have gotten into “decon” or caught a mouse that just ate decon? Now that mice are movin in for the winter, people put out decon which is a huge no no around pets. It could even have come from a neighbors place thru a rodent that has eaten it.

    • Lisa

      Oct 17, 2013 at 4:45 pm

      This is unlikely. The active ingredient in most mouse poisons is Brodifacoum, a warfarin-like anti-coagulant. A dog can get sick from this, but unless it’s a very small dog, it’s not likely to be lethal.

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