Our Vet Explains When to Euthanize a Diabetic Dog

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when to put a diabetic dog down

This article was updated on January 21st, 2024

It can be excruciatingly difficult for owners to accept that their diabetic dog might be suffering. Unfortunately, there may come a point where nothing more can be done to control the disease. It is at this point that euthanasia should be considered, to avoid unnecessary suffering for your dog.

As a veterinarian, I have unfortunately had to deal with dogs in the final stages of diabetes. In this article, I’ll provide helpful information to assist with making the euthanasia decision.

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.
  • 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.

How Do You Know If Your Dog is in the Final Stages of 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 infections 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. Diabetic dogs will deteriorate very quickly without insulin and they can quickly enter the life-threatening state of diabetic keto-acidosis.”

Dr. Alex Crow

Veterinarian at SeniorTailWaggers.com

Keto-acidosis 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.

The risk of euthanizing a diabetic dog too late

There is never a ‘right’ time to put an animal to sleep, most diseases are slowly progressing and so the decision is often not so clear cut. However, in the case of diabetes, the decision can be left too late.

A dog can very suddenly pass into diabetic ketoacidosis and become very unwell. Depending on the severity of the disease, the prognosis at this point can be poor and some owners will make the choice to have their dog put to sleep before any suffering gets worse.

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, chronic vomiting and dramatic weight loss all lower your dog’s quality of life
  • Your dog has become very weak or lethargic and has a lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Your vet indicates that insulin injections have less effect

There comes a point where owners may be keeping their dog alive for their own sake rather than what’s in the best interests of their dog. If you are unsure of what to do, book a visit to your local vet who can help you come to a rational conclusion.

Using the “Quality of Life” scale can help:

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 When to Euthanize a Diabetic Dog Before It’s Too Late

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, Dr. Crow explains:

“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.”

Dr. Alex Crow

Veterinarian at SeniorTailWaggers.com

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.

Helpful tips about living with a diabetic dog

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

1. Insulin: 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

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.

Learn More About Dog Diabetes:

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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… [...]
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  • Dr Alex Crow, Veterinary Surgeon

    Alex Crow, VetMed MRCVS, is an RCVS accredited Veterinary surgeon with special interests in neurology and soft tissue surgery. Dr Crow is currently practicing at Buttercross Veterinary Center in England. He earned his degree in veterinary medicine in 2019 from the Royal Veterinary College (one of the top 3 vet schools in the world) and has more than three years of experience practicing as a small animal veterinarian (dogs and cats).

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Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.

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