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When It’s Time: The Decision to Put Down a Diabetic Dog

A vet's advice for choosing when to euthanize a diabetic dog

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when to put a diabetic dog down

We love our dogs unconditionally. From providing us with endless entertainment to unquestioned loyalty and devotion, our dogs remain lovingly by our side throughout their lives. It’s only right therefore that we ensure our dogs remain as healthy and free from pain as possible.

It can be excruciatingly difficult for owners to accept that their diabetic dog might be suffering and unfortunately there may come a point where nothing more can be done to control the disease. It is at this point that euthanasia may have to be considered, as it might be in the best interests of your dog.

The Example of Lucy, a Diabetic Dog:

Lucy is one such case that I recently saw in my clinic. She had been diagnosed with diabetes two years ago and was controlled on daily insulin injections very well. However, as she aged and as the disease progressed, the insulin injections became less and less effective.

Her blood sugar was out of control and she started to develop recurring urinary tract infections because of glucose passing into her urine.

Although we tried to increase her dose and we even changed to a different type of insulin, all our attempts were in vain and it was clear to see that Lucy wasn’t the happy bouncy dog that she once was.

After a long and hard discussion with Lucy’s owners, we reached the conclusion that she couldn’t enjoy life anymore and that keeping her alive for the owners’ sake would have been selfish. The owners therefore decided to have Lucy euthanized.

Although it was the hardest decision of their lives, they could be at peace with the fact that it was the best thing for Lucy and that she was no longer suffering. In this article, we will discuss the right time to put a diabetic dog down, and review signs showing that your dog is in the final stages of diabetes.

What is Diabetes in Dogs?

Diabetes mellitus is a disease that results in dog’s being unable to control their blood sugar (also known as glucose) levels. This is due to a lack and/or ineffectiveness of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels within the body. Glucose is essential in providing the cells of your dog’s body with energy, this energy is needed for everything from metabolism to muscle contraction.

Without insulin, the cells are unable to utilize this glucose and so instead this glucose remains in the blood where it can’t be converted into energy. Essentially these leaves your dog in a state of ‘starvation’; they are unable to use glucose and so the body instead starts to break down fats for energy which comes with its own consequences.

Diabetes typically affects middle-aged to older dogs. Breeds such as Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels, Terriers, Pomeranians, Golden Shepherds and Labradors may be at greater risk of developing diabetes and obesity is a major risk factor. 

Diabetes is one such condition that can lead to your dog deteriorating over time and although diabetes is a treatable disease, there may become a point where it can no longer be controlled, and your dog may be suffering.


WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]


Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs

Keep an eye out for these symptoms that your dog may be developing diabetes:

  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Weight loss
  • An increased appetite initially followed by decreased appetite in later stages
  • Cloudy eyes (cataracts)
  • Chronic and recurring infections
  • Vomiting

Diabetes in dogs most commonly occurs when the body attacks and destroys the cells within the pancreas that produce insulin – this is like type 1 diabetes in humans. However, over time the body cells may become less responsive to insulin and obesity can play a major role in this process – this is comparable to type 2 diabetes in humans.

Many other diseases can show similar symptoms to diabetes and so diagnosis cannot be made on this alone. To diagnose diabetes your vet will perform various tests such as measuring blood glucose and analyzing your dog’s urine. It is also essential to keep monitoring your dog’s condition once they are diagnosed as diabetes is a dynamic condition that is always changing, and so it’s likely that your dog’s insulin dose may change over time.

We have a whole other article on the final stages of diabetes in older dogs, so be sure to check that out here.

Living with a Diabetic Dog

Life with a diabetic dog requires some adjustments for both you as the owner and your dog.

Firstly, you will need to be supplementing your dog with the insulin that they are unable to produce themself. This is typically administered twice daily by subcutaneous injection. There are various devices that are available to make this easier for you, but your vet should show you how to do this properly before starting your diabetic dog on treatment.

Regular exercise will be important for keeping your dog active and in shape; exercise also helps to lower blood sugar by helping the body use up energy but be careful not to overdo it as too little glucose in the blood can lead to problems of its own.

Diet is also very important for a dog with diabetes. There are many diets available that are specific to diabetes; these are generally high in fiber and low in fat. High fiber foods take longer to pass through the guts and therefore absorb more slowly, resulting in glucose uptake being slowed. This prevents large blood sugar spikes which can be very dangerous for a diabetic dog.

Regular vet visits are also essential in managing your dog’s diabetes. Routine blood tests should be carried out to make sure that your dogs’ diabetes is sufficiently under control and it’s crucial that your dog is examined at the first sign of any new symptoms developing.


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Diabetes isn’t a cheap condition to treat either and there are no shortcuts. Your dog will need insulin, and the costs of this can add up over your dog’s remaining lifespan. If you can’t afford treatment, then it’s unethical to leave your dog’s diabetes unchecked. You should therefore consider rehoming or even euthanizing your dog sooner if costs are a concern.

What’s the Life Expectancy of a Dog with Diabetes?

The median life span for a dog with diabetes is just over 2.5 years from the point of diagnosis. Some dogs may even live many more years than this. However, as your dog approaches the late stages of the disease then they may begin to noticeably deteriorate.

What are the Final Stages of Dog Diabetes?

While diabetes is very manageable up to a point, there will likely come a time where the insulin injections you’re giving your dog have a lesser effect. Excessive thirst, urination, vomiting and weight loss all lower your dog’s quality of life.

In the final stages of diabetes your dog may even enter a state called keto-acidosis, which is life-threatening.

Your dog may also develop other co-morbidities such as skin and urinary tract infections. The more resistant to insulin treatment your dog gets, the less energy they will have to enjoy their favorite things in life.

When your dog’s diabetes seems to be unmanageable it is hard to say how long they might have left, but it’s likely to be in the scale of days to weeks at most. Take them to your vet immediately to see if anything can be done. Diabetic dogs will deteriorate very quickly without insulin and they can quickly enter the life-threatening state of diabetic keto-acidosis.

This is very traumatic and will likely result in your dog needing to be put to sleep if emergency treatment is unsuccessful. Therefore, it is best to discuss euthanasia with your vet before your dog gets to this stage. Learn more about the final stages of diabetes.

Signs that Your Diabetic Dogs May Need to be Euthanized

The following signs indicate that your dog is nearing or is in the final stages of diabetes, and it is important to have a discussion about euthanasia with your dog:

  • Repeat skin and urinary tract infections impact your dog’s quality of life
  • Excessive thirst, urination, vomiting and weight loss all lower your dog’s quality of life
  • Your dog has become very weak or lethargic
  • Your vet indicates that insulin injections have less effect

Quality of life can be assessed by answering these essential questions:

  • Is my dog in pain which can’t be controlled?
  • Is he able to eat/drink without regular assistance?
  • Can he move around? Get outside to pee/poop? Toddle over for a cuddle?
  • Does he find enjoyment in food, toys, treats or cuddles?
  • Is he scared, anxious, or confused most of the time?
  • Does he take comfort from being around you, or at home, or is he oblivious?
  • Does he participate in life in any way, or is he just “existing?”

You can use our euthanasia quiz to answer similar “quality of life” questions and learn more.

Deciding to Euthanize a Diabetic Dog

Choosing the right moment to euthanize a dog with diabetes is difficult and, in many respects, there may never be an exact ‘right time’. However, if you and your vet have exhausted all options and your dog is showing clear signs that they are not responding to their insulin then euthanasia should be considered. It is likely that your dog will have little to no quality of life at this stage.

A dog that is depressed, losing weight, and even vomiting regularly is no longer enjoying life and the last thing you want as an owner is for your dog to enter diabetic keto-acidosis, as this will be very traumatic for all involved.

Talk to your vet about whether it may be the right time to have your dog euthanized. If managing the condition is no longer possible and your dog is displaying severe clinical symptoms, then it is likely the right time.

Final Thoughts

Making the decision to euthanize a dog with diabetes is the hardest thing you will have ever have to consider for your dog. Consciously choosing when to end your faithful companions’ life is both heart-breaking and terrifying, and many owners will worry that they might make the wrong decision.

However, ultimately that decision must be made with your dog’s best interests in mind and, as hard as it may be, you should try to separate your own emotions from that choice. Your dog’s welfare is the top priority and the best thing you can do for you beloved pet is to end any suffering that they may be experiencing.

Learn More About Dog Diabetes:

6 Signs That Your Dog May be Dying from Diabetes - It’s important for owners to recognize the symptoms that their dog might display in the final stages of diabetes, as… [...]
diabetes and food choices for a dog Final Stages of Dog Diabetes: A Guide for the Dog Owner - Diabetes mellitus can be a challenging condition for owners to manage in their dog. The need for daily insulin injections… [...]
Best Diabetic Dog Treats & Recipes [Vet Advice] - So, your dog has recently been diagnosed with diabetes and your vet has recommended that they need to go onto… [...]
owner hugging her senior dog Diabetes in Older Dogs - Most often, diabetes in older dogs is identified as Diabetes Mellitus, and happens because your dog's pancreas becomes unable to… [...]



Author

  • Alex Crow is an RCVS accredited Veterinary surgeon with special interests in neurology and soft tissue surgery. Dr Crow is currently practicing at Buttercross Veterinary Center (Practice Profile). He earned his degree in veterinary medicine from the Royal Veterinary College (one of the top 3 vet schools in the world).

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Disclaimer: This website's content is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action. Read More.

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