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Did raw food cause death?

Species: Dog
Breed: Chow Chow
Age: 8-11 years
Hi, Dr. Marie,
My sweet Shiva, who has been with me since an 8-wk old pup in 2002, died suddenly today. I had gone into town for a few hours and when I came back she was curled up on the couch in her favorite spot, looking like she was sleeping soundly. But she wasn't. She was still warm and I rushed her to the vet but she was gone. Shiva has always been a healthy dog with no problems, other than a month ago I discovered she had two bald patches and the vet put her on thyroid medication 2x/day. He said she was a bit anemic, but we'd treat her thyroid first and then see where her anemia was. She's been on the thyroid medication for 3+ weeks now and had more pep and energy. She was more playful with my other dogs. She wasn't sick, no vomiting, no blood, no diarrhea. The only thing that was different was the food I gave her and 4 of the other dogs last night. I've been concerned about where their food is coming from because of recalls. They've been on Blue Buffalo Limited Ingredient for a few months now and all like it. I did more research and thought I would supplement their dry food with some raw dog food. I bought a quality brand from a specialty pet store locally and last night defrosted two slices and cubed it up, mixing it with their dry. Shiva was laying by me in the office later that night and this morning and I could hear her bowels moving. I thought I wouldn't give her any more of it because it seemed her bowels at least didn't like it. She went outside twice before I left and was acting just fine. The vet did a necropsy an said her heart and lungs looked fine. He said there was a lesion on her stomach that looked like something had eaten through it. And he said her bladder looked a little odd. (She's been drinking a lot of water since beginning the thyroid pills). He's sent the tissue to a pathologist to see if he can get more answers. I'm just devastated. I know it's difficult to have an idea what happened but maybe you've heard or seen something similar and could offer some answers. I'm afraid I killed her by giving her the raw dog food mixed in with her dry. Thank you.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about Shiva. While I won't be able to tell you for sure why she died, I can give you a few ideas.

First of all, it is extremely unlikely that this was caused by the feeding of raw food. I'm not a fan of raw feeding mostly because of the potential for bacterial infections and also because it is hard to keep a raw diet well balanced. However, neither of these issues would cause sudden death or the problems with her stomach.

It sounds like her biggest problem was possibly a stomach ulcer. Stomach ulcers very rarely happen unless there is a serious medical issue.

Was she on any medicine other than the thyroid medicine? I have seen a dog get a stomach ulcer because they were taking aspirin regularly. I had another patient who got a stomach ulcer when they were on high levels of steroids (i.e. prednisone). But thyroid medication is not going to do this.

Incidentally, in hindsight, the anemia was probably there because of the stomach ulcer. She may have had some slow bleeding into her stomach.

I can think of two other possible causes for the stomach to rupture like this. One would be if Shiva had eaten something that was sharp (like a piece of metal). But, this would likely have been found on the post mortem exam. The other is if there was a tumor on the stomach wall. This is definitely a possibility. In fact, I think this is the most likely explanation.

If this was a stomach tumor then there is nothing we could have done to prevent it, and nothing we did caused this. The tumor could have been present and then finally eaten through the stomach lining. If there was a tumor, there could conceivably have been spread of cancer to the bladder as well which would explain the odd lesions.

I'm so sorry for your loss, but please know that you did everything you could for Shiva.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Hi, Dr. Marie,

Thank you so much for your reply. I feel somewhat better, in that I didn't kill her by feeding the raw food. It's just so odd that she died the very next day after eating it mixed in with her dry food for the very first time.

No, Shiva wasn't on any other meds. She's always been the most healthy of all my dogs. She'd only been on the thyroid medication for 3 weeks and was due back to the vet this coming week for a blood test to see how she was doing. I've never given her aspirin because she's never had any problems with her hips, or legs, or anything.

I still can't believe she's gone. Your explanation that it may have been a tumor on her stomach seems logical. It seems that if it had been anything else, like poisoning, she would have been very ill, but she wasn't. She was acting normally before I left the house, and looked like she was sleeping on the couch when I got back.

Thank you again for your response. You have helped give me some understanding of what could have happened. Thank you so much.

Diane Moore

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.