Q. My daughter had a 7-year-old Maltese who died suddenly. Does this breed not live long?
A. I am sorry to hear about the unexpected death of your daughter’s dog. It can be very distressing to find your dog suddenly deceased if there have not been any signs of illness. Small breed dogs typically live to 13 to 16 years, so I wouldn’t consider this death natural.
There is a pretty short list of causes of sudden death in dogs.
First is death due to a heart defect, usually a failure of the valve going from the heart to the aorta. Other heart defects, known as congenital because the dog is born with them, may not show up until middle age, and can also cause sudden death.
Larger breed dogs can die suddenly of bloat, or GDV, when the stomach twists and the dog goes into shock. It is very rare in smaller dogs.
Some middle-aged dogs get a type of cancer that causes bleeding from the spleen, which, when severe enough, can cause sudden death.
The only way to determine the cause of death is to arrange for a necropsy, the animal version of an autopsy. There are times when there is no definitive answer, only suspicions, even when pathologists perform the necropsy.