Back at the Keyboard

© Diane Gerba

Following a brief medical leave of absence I’m thankfully back at the keyboard.  I’d like to draw your attention to a PetConnection blog post I wrote in which I discuss a study that examined the causes of death in more than 70,000 purebred dogs (82 breeds represented).  While some of the data presented was rather predictable (at least for those of us who have worked with the particular breeds studied), some of the findings were surprising and fascinating.  I invite you to check it out- the blog is called “Breed Profiling: What Does it Mean for Your Dog’s Health.” If you are curious to know what the study had to say about your favorite breed, feel free to ask.  I’ll let you know if it was included in the study.


Best wishes for good health,            

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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19 Comments on “Back at the Keyboard

  1. So glad to see you back in action, Dr. Kay! I hope the remainder of your recovery is speedy and painless. Don’t lick the stitches!

  2. Here’s the scoop on Miniature Pinschers from the study: the organ system most commonly affected at the time of death was the neurological system and trauma was associated with death most commonly (20% of the time).

  3. Here is the information from the study about the Arctic breeds Jane inquired about:

    Siberian Husky: 13% gastrointestinal disease; 30% cancer
    Samoyeds: 13% gastrointestinal disease; 26% cancer
    Alaskan Malamutes: 15% musculoskeletal disease; 34% cancer

  4. Welcome back! Hope all is fine now! Any info on Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds? Our rescue specializes in them as well as mixes of those breeds.
    I thought I read somewhere that about 85% of dogs die of cancer these days. My main suspect is kibble, but the environment isn’t so good anymore, either. Waiting for info and implications of genetic perdisposition to cancer :-( 3 out of 4 of my dogs have died from cancer…

  5. I requested the article from my local library through interlibrary loan :-)

    My sweet little shih tzu died from bladder cancer. Shih tzus are prone to stones, too. Her cancer caused some stones in her kidneys to dislodge and they couldn’t pass through the ureters because of the tumors. She was doing pretty well right up to that time but the pain from that must have been excruciating for her. R.I.P. Twiggy.

    I am petsitting a Havanese. He has terminal cuteness. 😀

  6. Here is some information about other breeds readers inquired about:

    Labrador Retriever: 15% musculoskeletal disease; 34% cancer
    Pekingese: 15% neurological disease; 13% trauma
    Havanese: not included in the study
    Australian Terrier: not included in the study
    German Shepherd: 15% gastrointestinal disease; 28% cancer
    Flat Coated Retriever: not included in the study, but if they were, cancer would be number one for sure; they are genetically predisposed to malignant histiocytosis
    Papillon: not included in the study
    Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: not included in the study, but heart (cardiovascular) disease would most certainly be number one on the list

  7. I would be interested in knowing about German Shepherds, Flat Coated Retreivers and Papillons. Will this study ever be placed on the web?

  8. I was astonished that boxers were not listed in the “heart disease” category, since “boxer cardiomyopathy” is extremely common in boxers. It is an arrhythmia (premature ventricular contractions) that can (and often does) kill with no warning. When undetected, it can lead to chronic heart disease.

    This arrhythmia, if the PVCs are strung together, can cause oxygen deprivation and subsequent fainting, which is often mistaken for a seizure, if the dog recovers. By the time the dog is seen by a vet, the heart rate is normal, and many boxers are mistakenly treated for seizures.

    According to the study, dogs that were listed as “Dead on Arrival” were excluded from the results; a strange exclusion, IMO. Because of this, the deaths of boxers due to this heart condition apparently are considered “unclassified”, and do not get included in the breed-specific causes of death. Indeed, the highest number for boxers in the chart (0.187) is for “unclassified”, the next highest (0.182) is for “neoplastic”.

    Most boxer breeders would consider this condition to be even more prevalent than cancer as a cause of death in boxers, and cancers are bad enough!

  9. Can you give me the results for Pekingese. I am director for our rescue group and we see a lot of problems that keep coming up– bladder issues, back issues and eye issues. Of course, there are seizure disorders also. (not as common, but bladder issues are very common in the breed).

  10. For those of you interested in reading the article

    That is sad about the dachshunds. My dachshund had two back surgeries in five days at UT-Knoxville which specializes in dachshund backs supposedly. He was paralyzed after an extended visit with my parents so I don’t exactly know what triggered his paralysis. He remained on crate rest from January through April of 2009. With the aid of a rear end harness for support, he was able to go outside to potty. Sent home with instructions on range of motion exercises and the okay to swim him in my bath tub, I rehabbed him successfully. The interesting part of his recovery has been the 12 to 24 months post-op. He has continued to improve and runs and plays and does some agility that primarily running through tunnels or bars set on the ground. My vet said that his experience is that many owners don’t have the patience to endure extended paralysis or the animal is a poor patient (ie bites), both which compromises prognosis. I was lucky that Fred is a friendly little dog who the vets loved at the university and knew we were trying to help him. Fro those who cannot afford pet insurance, I would encourage everybody to get a Care Credit account. That offers interest free payments of varying durations. Having multiple dogs, I cannot afford pet insurance, but CC helped me pay for Fred’s surgery.

  11. Several of you have contacted me to ask about particular breeds within the report. Unfortunately the entirety of the study cannot be found online- only the summary/abstract I included in the blog post. I am happy to provide you with information about any breed in which you are interested. Here are the breeds you have inquired about thusfar in terms of both the most common organ system and the most common pathologic process involved in the documented causes of death:

    Sheltie: 14% urogenital tract; 30% cancer
    Border Collie: 14% musculoskeletal disease; 26% cancer
    Pyranean Shepherd: not included in the study
    Australian Shepherd: 13% musculoskeletal disease; 24% cancer
    Golden Retriever: 15% hematological disease; 50% cancer
    Irish Setter:18% musculoskeletal disease; 41% cancer
    Brittany Spaniel: 13% musculoskeletal disease; 27% cancer
    Dachshund: 40% neurological disease; 12% trauma
    Miniature Dachshund: 40% neurological disease; 12% trauma
    Toller: not included in the study
    Shih Tzu: 14% urogenital disease; 15% cancer

  12. Hi Nancy, were shelties included in the study? Thanks!

  13. Welcome back, Dr. Nancy. Hope you are feeling well now — glad to have you back.

    I have a Maltese, or maybe malti-poo, suffering heart disease at the moment so I was not surprised to find her breed listed in your article.

    It makes my blood boil that people breed for looks or other features … with no real concern about the heartbreak that occurs when your beloved animal “breaks down” thanks to genetic weaknesses or predispositions. I have spared no effort or expense for 9 years with Maggie with regard to making a healthy home-cooked diet with proper supplementation, 2x daily exercise rain or shine, clicker training, daily grooming and teeth brushing (yes I have brushed her rotten little teeth DAILY for 8.5 years), using only green and nontoxic cleaning products, eliminating plastic so far as humanly possible, regular veterinary care, no expense or effort spared including heroics over getting special dispensation to avoid a rabies vac (after a bad reaction & subsequent titer test), all to keep her healthy and happy for as long as possible.

    She’s “only” 11 years old, not so very old for a toy breed, and it is tragic to have her suffer from heart disease. We are fighting Congestive Heart Failure, but for how long?