When to Euthanize a Dog with Diabetes? (Advice from Vets)

When to Euthanize a Dog with Diabetes

If your dog faces increasing difficulty in daily activities, shows more discomfort than relief despite treatments, and has more bad days than good, it may be time to discuss euthanasia with your vet. This decision, though hard, can be a compassionate choice to alleviate ongoing suffering when thequality of life cannot be improved.

What is Diabetes in Dogs?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how a dog’s body handles glucose, a vital energy source for its cells.

Diabetes in dogs is usually caused by one of two types:

  • Type 1 diabetes – This is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. This means the body can’t produce enough insulin. It usually occurs in younger dogs.
  • Type 2 diabetes develops when a dog’s body becomes resistant to insulin or fails to produce enough insulin for its needs. Type 2 diabetes is more common in overweight, middle-aged, or senior dogs, as their cells gradually lose insulin sensitivity.

Symptoms of Canine Diabetes

Increased Urination and Thirst

  • Frequent urination, especially uncontrolled urination at night
  • Large volumes of urine released
  • Excessive thirst and increased water intake

Excess blood glucose is filtered by the kidneys into the urine, causing fluid loss. Diabetic dogs drink more water to rehydrate and replace these lost fluids.

Increased Hunger and Weight Loss

  • Ravenous appetite – always seems hungry
  • Sudden loss of weight despite eating more
  • Loss of muscle mass and fat deposits

Despite eating more, diabetic dogs lose weight. This is because a lack of insulin prevents their bodies from using nutrients effectively, leading to unabsorbed calories.

Other Symptoms

Some other concerning signs of canine diabetes include:

  • Lethargy, depression, loss of energy
  • Cloudy eyes, cataract development
  • Slow healing wounds and infections on skin or feet
  • Increased urinary tract infections and inflammation
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, signs of dehydration

Stages of Canine Diabetes


At this early stage, a dog’s blood sugar levels are elevated but not yet high enough to diagnose diabetes.

In this stage, a dog may have trouble producing or using insulin effectively. However, early treatment can often help reverse pre-diabetes.

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes Mellitus is a severe form of diabetes in which a dog cannot regulate blood sugar effectively. There are two phases of diabetes mellitus:

Uncomplicated Diabetes is the phase immediately after diagnosis, where the dog’s cells and blood sugar-regulating abilities remain functional.

With proper insulin therapy and management, dogs can live happily with uncomplicated diabetes for years.

Complex/End-Stage Diabetes occurs when diabetes is left unmanaged for an extended period, leading to the failure of the dog’s system and vital organs.

In this advanced stage, even high doses of insulin often fail to stabilize the dog’s condition. When the quality of life significantly declines, veterinarians may recommend euthanasia as the most humane option.

Treatment Options for Canine Diabetes

If your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, starting treatment quickly is crucial to manage the disease and minimize symptoms.

Medications and Insulin Therapy

Insulin injections are the cornerstone treatment for canine diabetes to normalize blood sugar.

  • Most dogs require injections twice per day, ideally before meals.
  • Vets determine the type of insulin (beef, pork insulin, or synthetic analogs like ProZinc or Vetsulin) and dosage based on factors like your dog’s weight and type of diabetes.
  • Starting doses average around 1 unit of insulin per 2.2 lbs body weight given under the skin.
  • At-home blood glucose testing with home meter kits helps fine-tune insulin amounts to your dog’s needs.
  • Work closely with your vet to establish ideal dosing and make adjustments.
  • Know the signs of insulin overdose – weakness, lethargy, unsteadiness, collapse.
  • Oral medications may also be prescribed to help stimulate insulin production or improve glucose absorption.

Dietary Changes

An appropriate diet helps control diabetes by:

  • Promoting weight loss in overweight dogs to improve insulin sensitivity.
  • Stabilizing energy levels and enabling better nutrient absorption.
  • Reducing the risk of complications like cataracts and kidney issues.

Key diet tips:

  • Feed consistent amounts of high protein, low carb, high fiber dog food at regular times.
  • Restrict unhealthy treats and table scraps; stick to low glycemic veggies/fruits.
  • Use portion-controlled dog bowls to prevent overeating.
  • Canned food may be easier to eat for picky diabetic dogs.

Work closely with your vet or canine nutritionist to develop the optimal food plan.


Regular exercise helps manage diabetes by:

  • Burning excess blood glucose for energy
  • Improving insulin sensitivity in cells
  • Promoting weight loss in overweight dogs
  • Maintaining a healthier body weight long-term

Recommended exercise includes:

  • Short, daily walks
  • Playing fetch
  • Easy hikes or swimming

Strenuous workouts can quickly drop blood sugar to dangerous levels. Low-impact exercise is safest for diabetic dogs.

Monitoring Blood Sugar

Checking blood sugar levels at home lets you closely monitor how well treatment is working. Try to:

  • Test sugar levels before meals, after, and at bedtime.
  • Use blood glucose meter kits designed for pets.
  • Keep a detailed daily/weekly log of levels to share.
  • Work with your vet on target blood sugar ranges for your dog.
  • Catch concerning spikes or lows early.

Factors Affecting a Dog’s Life Expectancy with Diabetes

Many factors influence how long diabetic dogs can live while maintaining a good quality of life.


Younger diabetic dogs usually have a better long-term outlook. They are more resilient to years of insulin therapy and its symptoms, as their bodies recover more easily.

In contrast, senior dogs, those over age 10, tend to progress through the disease stages more quickly due to age-related decline in their overall health, including reduced pancreatic function. On average, diabetic dogs under proper care live 1-3 years after diagnosis, though their lifespan can vary significantly.

A study found that dogs diagnosed with diabetes before age 5 lived 33-57 months, compared to just 8-20 months for those diagnosed after age 10.

Pre-Existing Conditions

Dogs with certain pre-existing conditions often have a reduced life expectancy when they also have diabetes. Some conditions linked with faster decline include:

  • Heart disease – already stressed circulatory system.
  • Liver or kidney disorders – fewer reserves to filter waste/toxins.
  • Urinary tract problems – increased risk of dangerous infections.
  • Significant arthritis or mobility issues – hardship with exercise needs.

Managing multiple chronic conditions can significantly strain a dog’s internal organs. Therefore, dogs with major health issues alongside diabetes often face a poorer prognosis due to their body’s depleted resources. Long-term health issues can significantly weaken a dog’s natural ability to recover and stay healthy.

Obesity & Diet

A diabetic dog with a body condition score over 7 out of 9 at diagnosis typically has a shorter potential lifespan. Excess fatty tissue leads to:

  • Reduced insulin sensitivity requiring higher, less effective medication doses.
  • Excess weight leads to increased inflammation and added stress on the organs.
  • Greater risk of secondary diseases like heart disease and arthritis.

Getting weight under control is hugely important for longevity. Nutrition and fitness are as important as insulin in enhancing both the quality and length of life for diabetic dogs.

A study showed that, on average, obese diabetic dogs have a lifespan that is five times shorter than that of lean diabetic dogs.

When to Euthanize a Dog with Diabetes?

One of the hardest decisions for a pet parent is knowing when to let go. When your beloved dog suffers from diabetes, determining the right time for euthanasia depends greatly on two key factors:

Declining Quality of Life

Focus on your dog’s quality of life rather than the quantity of life remaining. Consider:

  • Are they still gaining enjoyment from favorite activities? Dogs suffering from uncontrolled diabetes often lack the energy, strength, and stamina needed for usual activities like playing, exercising, and bonding.
  • Is their appetite and weight stable? A diabetic dog showing signs like loss of appetite, selective eating, or drastic weight changes is likely experiencing declining health.
  • How well are bladder and bowel functions working? Symptoms like difficulty urinating, urine dribbling, incontinence, and loss of control over waste elimination indicate a decline in organ function.
  • Is pain or stress increasing? Behaviors such as excessive panting, restless sleep, whining, anxiety, aggression, and unusual habits often signal that chronic health issues are severely affecting the dog’s daily life.

If daily living activities become more difficult, stressful, or uncomfortable despite your best treatment efforts, humane euthanasia prevents further suffering. You’ve gone above and beyond.

Level of Suffering

Euthanasia may be necessary if treatments fail to maintain a good quality of life and your dog experiences more discomfort than relief.

Red flags include:

  • Little interest in interacting with family members
  • Disorientation, confusion, glassy-eyed staring or agitation
  • Persistent nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration
  • Labored breathing, collapsing episodes, seizures
  • Non-healing skin infections or ulcers

If your vet agrees that all practical treatments have been tried and your dog has more painful days than happy ones, it might be the right time to consider saying goodbye.

The Average Lifespan of a Dog with Diabetes

With treatment and monitoring, the average lifespan of a diabetic dog is 1-3 years after diagnosis.

For instance, a healthy dog diagnosed with diabetes at 5 years old and receiving early treatment could have a lifespan similar to that of non-diabetic dogs.

Conversely, an obese dog diagnosed with advanced diabetes at 10 years old might live only a year or less.

Will Diabetes Kill My Dog?

The short answer is diabetes can be fatal, but doesn’t have to be. Proper management and treatment let diabetic dogs enjoy great lives for years.

How Diabetes Can Be Fatal?

When uncontrolled, diabetes causes significant loss of fat and muscle, leading to organ failure.

  • High blood sugar spikes in diabetic dogs can destroy nerves, tissues, and blood vessels.
  • In diabetes, the dog’s body breaks down fat for fuel, causing rapid weight loss.
  • In diabetic dogs, toxins build up in the liver and kidneys, eventually leading to their failure.
  • Extreme fluid shifts put stress on the heart and brain.

In untreated cases, organ failure or diabetic coma often leads to death, typically within a year of diagnosis.

Can a Diabetic Dog Survive without Insulin?

In most cases of diabetes in dogs, injecting insulin is the recommended treatment. Dogs that have diabetes mellitus usually require two daily insulin injections, in addition to a dietary change. Although a dog may be able to go a day or two without insulin, this should not be the norm; treatment should be regarded as part of a diabetic dog’s daily routine.

Other treatment options for managing diabetes in dogs have proven to be less than effective. At one point, oral hyperglycemic agents were believed to be effective at treating canine diabetes as they could lower blood glucose, but this wasn’t the case.

The main reason why insulin is a necessary part of treatment for canine diabetes is the fact that canines almost always suffer from insulin-dependent diabetes. This simply means that the pancreas is unable to secrete enough insulin to effectively regulate blood glucose levels.

Do Dogs with Diabetes Sleep More?

Diabetes drains a lot of vital energy from your four-legged friend. You may notice that your dog is more lethargic and sleeps much longer than usual. This is a telling symptom, and if you are yet to get a diagnosis, it may be worth taking your dog to the vet for a check-up just to be sure.

Will a Dog with Diabetes Go Blind?

Cataracts are a common complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness. It is estimated that around 75% of diabetic dogs go blind from cataracts within a year of showing symptoms. Cataracts can form very quickly in diabetic dogs, sometimes in as little time as a couple of weeks.

If cataracts have started to develop in your dog’s eyes, you may want to consider surgery to get rid of them to prevent blindness. Cataract surgery can be performed after your canine’s blood sugar levels stabilize, which normally takes around three months. Almost three-quarters of all dogs that undergo this surgery regain their sight.

How Long Does it Take to Stabilize a Dog with Diabetes?

Because each case is unique, there is no way to determine a specific time it will take to stabilize a diabetic dog. Sometimes the stabilization process will require that you try different diets, insulin dosages, or injection frequencies. Stabilization can be achieved sometimes within a month, and in some cases, over a year from when you began treatment.

To work towards stabilization, you must work closely with your vet to reduce the risk of complications like renal failure, heart problems, and blindness. Even after your dog achieves stability, you still need to see the vet regularly to maintain good health. You also need to ensure consistent administration of insulin, healthy and consistent feeding, and a stress-free lifestyle.

What Breeds of Dogs are Prone to Diabetes?

Although any dog could develop diabetes, these breeds are at a higher risk:

  • Golden retrievers
  • Cocker spaniels
  • German shepherds
  • Pomeranians
  • Miniature schnauzers
  • Doberman pinschers
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Toy poodles
  • Samoyeds
  • Keeshond
  • Terriers
  • Dachshunds
  • Bichon frises
  • Pugs
  • Australian terriers
  • Beagles
  • Cairn terriers
  • Fox terriers
  • Puli

What to Feed a Dog with Diabetes?

There is no specific diet for canine diabetes. Factors such as body condition, underlying medical conditions, and pet preferences guide the most suitable diet for canine diabetes.

Though approaches differ when it comes to determining the optimal nutrition in diabetic dogs, the diet has to be consistent – use the same food, administer insulin as required, and provide the same treats.

Diets can be divided into the following categories:

Prescription Diets

These are diets that are specially formulated to manage canine diabetes. Diets that are high in fiber are especially effective for weight loss and improving blood sugar control. Consult your vet about the most appropriate food choices for your canine.

Nonprescription Diets

Before choosing a diet, you need to consider which nutrients are the most essential for your dog. The most important nutrients are carbohydrates and fiber. If your dog has other underlying conditions such as pancreatitis or heart disease, or high levels of fat, you may want to consider regulating sodium and fats.

Water Consumption

You must provide clean drinking water for your dog. You may notice a reduction in excessive water consumption, which could be an indication of the successful management of diabetes.

Can a Dog with Diabetes Eat Rice?

You want to generally avoid high glycemic foods that cause an almost instant spike in blood sugar, such as white rice and bread. On the other hand, brown rice can be harder for your dog because it is not as processed, so it may also not be ideal.

Can a Dog with Diabetes Eat Eggs?

High-quality proteins are highly recommended for dogs with diabetes. Foods like eggs are great protein sources. Consider scrambling the eggs (minus any salt, pepper, or spices) in preparation for your dog, rather than offering them raw, to reduce the risk of the presence of avidin, a bacteria common in uncooked eggs.

Can a Dog with Diabetes Eat Chicken?

Other than eggs, other proteins you can give your dog include chicken, beef, fish, and turkey. Stick to low-fat recipes, such as chicken breasts and lean meats. L-Carnitine, an amino acid present in lamb and beef, is especially helpful in managing diabetes in dogs. High-quality proteins in general can improve fat metabolism, help in the maintenance of lean body mass, and protect muscles.

Can a Dog with Diabetes Have Treats?

Diabetic dogs can have treats, as long as they meet the following guidelines:

  • No obvious sources of sugar
  • Low-fat content
  • High fiber content
  • Complex carbohydrates/grains
  • High-quality proteins

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