Sudden Dog Deaths In Shelter Population

James Glover
by James Glover
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QuestionHi, I volunteer at a local animal shelter, and we have had two dogs die recently in a strange manner that seems to have stumped even our vets. Each dog started vomiting and having diarhea in the evening and by the next morning they had died. Both had seemingly bled out, as they were found in pools of blood. Our vets have not been able to pin down a cause as of yet, autopsies were done and samples were sent to the university for second opinions. I guess my question is what could cause a dog to go from mild diarhea and vomiting to death in less than twelve hours time? (Jjennifer Applebee - Illinois)

Answer

Some of the simplest organisms on earth, the Protozoa, are single-celled organisms that can cause serious illness and sometimes death in all animals. Of these, Coccidia are intestinal and invade and infect the lines of the intestinal tract. Of those that infect dogs, Isospora is the most common, and can be spread by eating an infected host (such as a rat) or being in contact with fecal matter from an infected host (like another dog). It is therefore unsurprising that outbreaks most often occur in high-density populations such as kennels and shelters.

Most infections are harmless and are dealt with by the body's own defence mechanisms, resulting in minimal symptoms. However, in animals (and humans!) where the immune system is slightly debilitated, the infection can lead to severe watery or bloody diarrhea and death, although all this in the space of 12 hours is highly unusual. Perhaps there were more minor symptoms beforehand. If the deaths were caused by such an infection, the whole building must be thoroughly cleaned, and your vet may advise treating the entire population with specific drugs.

The only other 'obvious' potential causes are diseases found only in medieval times and in Africa, and one would hope there is hardly any reason to describe these.

Disclaimer: This service is meant to provide advice only and is not meant to replace an appointment with a registered veterinarian. Users should always seek a second opinion. Unfortunately we are only able to answer several questions per week so not everyone gets a published answer. And, unfortunately we can't answer by email.
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