A diabetes diagnosis can sound like a death sentence for many dog owners, after all, the condition is still incurable. This first impression of the seriousness of canine diabetes can trigger the question, “Is my dog dying from diabetes?” Similarly, diabetic dog owners who have helped their pets live with diabetes for a while often wonder if their pet is succumbing to diabetes.
So, is your dog really dying from diabetes?
Dogs with diabetes can have a good life expectancy if the condition is well managed with insulin treatment, diet, and exercise. However, your diabetic dog will, at some point in life, show signs of advanced disease and eventually succumb.
The fact that diabetes eventually leads your pet to the end of life can trigger a second related question, “Should I put down my dog with diabetes or treat the pet until it naturally succumbs to the condition?”
This article answers the tough questions around diabetic dog life expectancy, if dogs with diabetes suffer, the final stages of canine diabetes, and the dilemma around euthanizing a diabetic dog.
How Long Do Dogs Live After A Diabetes Diagnosis?
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the majority of dogs develop diabetes between ages 4 and 14. Unfortunately, many dogs live with diabetes before diagnosis, which usually happens around 7-10 years. A late canine diabetes diagnosis can compromise the effectiveness of diabetes management, which could also mean a reduced life expectancy.
Life expectancy after diabetes diagnosis will vary from dog to dog depending on factors such as disease comorbidity, age, and quality of care. Overall, however, the mean life expectancy for diabetic dogs after diagnosis is estimated to be around two years.
A study in 2019 found that diabetes dogs had a median survival period of 964 days, around 2 years and 7 months.
But does diabetes reduce your dog’s life expectancy, or are there other related factors?
Does Diabetes Reduce Life Expectancy In Dogs?
Dogs with diabetes can live to their breed-estimated full lifespan. For this to happen, however, diabetes should be diagnosed early and managed effectively.
Diabetes can reduce your dog’s lifespan if it is diagnosed late and if it is poorly managed after diagnosis.
Along with late diagnosis and poor diabetes management, there are other factors that have an aggravating effect on dog diabetes, implying that they can reduce your diabetic dog’s life expectancy. These factors include:
- Disease comorbidity, or the presence of other diseases and health conditions alongside diabetes. These include pancreatitis, hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease), urinary tract infections, and overweight.
- Age. A study found that older dogs had higher odds of death from diabetes than younger ones.
- A higher hematocrit value (HCT). The hematocrit value shows the percentage of red cells in your dog’s blood. The normal hematocrit values for dogs are 41-58.
- Hyperphosphatemia (higher serum phosphate levels). Serum phosphate is the chemical that contains the required phosphorus mineral in your dog’s body. Normal serum phosphorus levels in dogs are 0.8mmol/L-1.8mmol/L (2.3mg/dL-5.5mg/dL).
The above factors can anticipate the final stage of dog diabetes.
The Final Stage Of Dog Diabetes
The stages of canine diabetes have been likened to those of diabetes progression in humans. These stages go from genetic susceptibility, which is the first stage, to stage 6, the last stage.
In the final stage, a diabetic dog shows symptoms of advanced disease due to the complete destruction of the insulin-producing beta-cell in the pancreas.
We’ll briefly look at the stages of canine diabetes progression to help you understand better the final stage of dog diabetes.
Stage 1: Genetic Susceptibility
Diabetes in dogs results from insulin deficiency as a consequence of immune-mediated destruction of the beta-cells associated with genetic susceptibility. Studies have shown that this genetic predisposition is caused by similar alleles as those causing the condition in humans.
Stage 2: Triggering Event
Stage two in dog diabetes entails the presence of a triggering event, or what we commonly call the causes of diabetes (age, sex, overweight, continuous administration of steroids, etc.). These events trigger the onset of beta-cells destruction.
Stage 3: Active Autoimmunity with Normal Insulin Production
Stage 3 in dog diabetes is characterized by active autoimmunity from the destruction of the beta-cells. At this stage, however, insulin secretion in the pancreas is largely functional at normal levels.
Stage 4: Active Autoimmunity with Impaired Insulin Production
In stage 4, your dog will show immunological abnormalities following abnormal insulin production and utilization. Normal blood sugar levels may still be maintained.
Stage 5: Clinical Diabetes with Residual Insulin Production
Noticeable clinical diabetes signs begin to manifest in stage five, including extreme thirst, frequent urination, increased appetite, lethargy, poor coat quality, etc. Residual insulin production is still present. Your dog requires insulin treatment for diabetes management.
Stage 6: Clinical Diabetes with Complete Destruction of Beta-cells
At stage 6, your dog’s insulin-producing beta-cells are completely destroyed. This leads to complete dependency on insulin to regulate blood sugar, control diabetes clinical signs, prevent life-threatening diabetes complications such as ketoacidosis, and generally, stay alive.
This is the last stage of canine diabetes. Your dog will manifest the signs of advanced disease discussed in the next section, which points to imminent death.
Signs That Your Dog With Diabetes Is Dying
Dogs with hard-to-manage diabetes due to complete destruction of the beta-cell and often resistance to insulin treatment will easily develop complications. These complications are often a clear sign that your dog is in the final stages of diabetes, and it might be time to say goodbye to your furry friend.
Symptomatic indications that your dog is in the final stages of diabetes include:
- Continuous vomiting.
- Chronic diarrhea.
- Uncontrolled urination.
- Extreme weight loss.
- Absolute lack of appetite.
- Extreme lethargy.
- Complete disinterest in activities that were previously enjoyed.
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs).
- Cataracts that eventually lead to blindness.
- Diabetic neuropathy or neurological symptoms, including ataxia (impaired coordination), seizures, joint stiffness, extreme weakness, and muscle atrophy (wasting of muscle and tissue).
- Diabetes Ketoacidosis (DKA), is a medical emergency caused by a surge in blood sugar levels and characterized by extreme diabetes symptoms.
- Hypoglycemia, isa medical emergency caused by extremely low blood sugar and characterized by shaking, panting, lethargy, vomiting, and a sweet odor in the dog’s breath.
- Kidney failure.
- Liver disease (enlarged liver).
It’s important to know that these symptoms can manifest during a diabetes crisis and disappear when the blood sugar levels are controlled. However, the symptoms are continuous or recurrent in the final stages of diabetes. Whichever the situation, talk to your dog’s vet as soon as you notice these symptoms.
When extreme diabetes symptoms are signs of advanced disease, many dog owners may begin to consider the option of putting their dogs to sleep.
When Should You Put a Diabetic Dog Down?
It’s hard to give a one-size-fits-all response to the question, “When should I put my diabetic dog down?” That’s because the gravity of diabetes will vary from dog to dog, and the reasons for putting a diabetic dog to sleep will differ from one dog owner to the other.
According to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), dogs and other animals should be put down when they are very sick and suffering with no hope of getting better and being able to enjoy life.
But broader perspectives on euthanizing companion animals bring in an aspect of the owner’s interest, thereby suggesting that putting a dog down is meant to provide relief for the suffering animal and its owner. That explains why euthanizing animals is often defined as painlessly putting down an animal in the animal’s welfare or the interest of the owner.
Rising cost of care in final stages
For dog owners, a common reason for considering putting their diabetic pets to sleep is the rising cost of managing the disease. Managing canine diabetes in its early stages with daily insulin shots is already a costly task. When dog diabetes enters the final stages, frequent visits to the vet due to diabetes complications and other comorbidity treatments can become even more costly. Advanced canine diabetes also comes with an emotional cost for the dog owner.
Apart from cost, a study focusing on the frequency and reasons for euthanizing diabetic pets also recorded the following reasons why dog owners put their diabetic dogs down:
- Comorbidity (the presence of other diseases alongside diabetes).
- Cost of caring for the diabetic dog.
- The age of the animal (older dogs are more likely to be euthanized).
- Problems with controlling the disease.
- Dog welfare (putting an end to the pet’s suffering from diabetes complications).
- The impact owning a diabetic dog has on the owner’s lifestyle.
- Injection problems (administering the injection and injection storage).
Speaking from a diabetic dog’s perspective, and as proposed by the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association), diabetic dogs living a quality life should be helped to thrive through proper disease management with insulin treatment, exercise, and a high-protein and fiber diet.
Advanced diabetes complications such as ketoacidosis and kidney failure are signs of poor quality of life. These can be considered justifiable reasons for euthanizing your dog.
Read our complete article on when to consider Putting Down a Diabetic Dog. There we try to answer questions about if, when, how, who, and where to put down a diabetic dog.
Diabetes and Dog Final Stage FAQs
Do Dogs with Diabetes Suffer?
In itself, diabetes should not be a painful condition. Nevertheless, canine diabetes often develops from underlying conditions and can occur together with other diseases. These co-occurring illnesses can cause suffering to your dog.
Diseases occurring together with diabetes that can cause suffering to your dog include pancreatitis and cataracts. There are severe symptoms of advanced canine diabetes, such as vomiting, diarrhea, shivering, and muscle stiffness. They will also cause your dog discomfort and pain.
Proper care, according to the vet’s guidelines, will save your dog from diabetes-related suffering.
Do all Diabetic Dogs go Blind?
Not all diabetic dogs go blind. However, 75% of diabetic dogs go blind within 9 months due to cataracts or cloudy eye lenses. A study found that all 16 participating dogs developed cataracts within 3 months of a diabetes diagnosis.
Cataracts develop fast and should be treated immediately. If not treated, cataracts cause intraocular inflammation that triggers glaucoma, which in turn causes extreme interocular pressure. If not treated, cataracts can cause the rupture of the eye lens capsules, necessitating the removal of the eyes.
A reversed case of diabetes-related blindness in a dog was achieved by placing artificial lenses, giving hope for diabetes dogs to see again.
How do I Prevent Blindness in my Diabetic Dog?
The best way to prevent blindness in a diabetic dog is to have your pet treated early. That way it is given before the cataract can cause irreversible damage to the eye.
Remember to always talk to your dog’s vet before administering any supplements.