Knowing when to put a diabetic dog down is a painful topic to discuss, but it’s also an important one to delve into.
Diabetes is a chronic illness that can be managed, but even with the best management in the world, it takes its toll on a dog over time.
We adopted an older dog from our local shelter and it turned out that he had diabetes.
We did everything we could for him, and while he lived for a long time, eventually we still had to ask ourselves this very question.
When to Put a Diabetic Dog Down
This topic is so important to me for two reasons.
First, I have personal experience with caring for a diabetic dog.
Secondly, I have seen so many owners wait too long to put their dog to sleep.
I myself have waited too long to put my dog to sleep.
In an effort to have more time with my dog, I ended up inadvertently making her suffering last longer than it should.
That’s why I want to talk about knowing when to put your dog to sleep and how that relates to canine diabetes.
It’s a tricky subject, but when you understand how to know when to put your dog down with diabetes, you’ll be able to make better decisions for him when the end is finally coming near.
What is Canine Diabetes
Canine diabetes is simply diabetes in dogs.
It functions the same way. It causes the same type of damage over time. It’s also treated in the same way.
Just as in humans, diabetes is a condition in which a dog cannot process sugars.
The pancreas either doesn’t make enough insulin or it makes none at all, or his body cannot use the insulin that is created.
In either case, the glucose created from the breakdown of food can’t be used for cellular energy.
Over time, blood sugar builds up in the body, causing the kidneys and liver to go into overdrive in an attempt to clean the excess sugar from the blood.
Over time, this leads to damage to the organs, along with other effects that occur from excess sugar in the blood.
Types of Diabetes
Just as in humans, dogs can have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is called insulin-deficient diabetes and type 2 is called insulin-resistant diabetes.
Insulin-deficient diabetes means the pancreas makes little or no insulin. Without insulin, the dog’s body can’t process glucose.
Insulin-resistant diabetes in a condition in which the dog’s pancreas makes insulin, but his body doesn’t use it correctly.
While insulin isn’t absent from the body, its inability to be used results in the same inability to process glucose.
Common Effects of Uncontrolled and Long-Term Canine Diabetes
While these issues occur sooner and more often in dogs with uncontrolled diabetes, they can also eventually strike a dog with even well-controlled diabetes.
In our case, Walter, our Pomeranian, eventually succumbed to the first complication on this list – kidney failure.
- Kidney Disease/Failure
- Urinary Tract Infection
- Liver Disease
- Chronic Pancreatitis (Inflammation of the Pancreas)
A Note on Ketoacidosis
This is an acute, immediately life-threatening condition.
It’s caused by a build-up of ketones in the dog’s bloodstream due to his body breaking down fat and muscle tissue for fuel in the absence of glucose.
If your dog shows any of the following symptoms, he could be experiencing ketoacidosis and should be taken to a vet immediately.
- Rapid Breathing
- Sweet-Smelling Breath
Symptoms of Canine Diabetes
Blessedly, the symptoms of this chronic disease aren’t hard to spot.
Even if you never had diabetes on your radar – even if you’d never read this post – you would see these symptoms and immediately know your dog needed to see the vet.
With symptoms being so pronounced, it makes it easy to know sooner that your dog might have an issue so you can start treating him faster.
Early Signs of Diabetes
- Excessive Thirst
- Excessive Urination
- Unexplained Weight Loss
- Increased Appetite
- Recurring UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections)
Signs of Advanced Diabetes
- Loss of Appetite
- Sweet-Smelling Breath
- Cloudy Eyes
- Depressed Attitude
Risk Factors for Diabetes
There are a variety of issues that can cause diabetes to occur in dogs.
These issues range from a genetic predisposition to the disease to chronic steroid use, obesity, and more.
Knowing these factors can help you be more aware of the symptoms listed above.
- Age – Diabetes is most common in middle-aged and senior dogs.
- Gender – Unspayed females are at double the risk of developing diabetes.
- Chronic Pancreatitis – Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis can permanently damage the organ and reduce or stop the production of insulin.
- Obesity – Obesity promotes insulin resistance AND a risk factor for pancreatitis.
- Steroids – Diabetes has been linked to long-term steroid use.
- Cushing’s Disease – This condition causes the body to overproduce steroids in the body, which we just said are linked to diabetes.
- Autoimmune Disorders – Some autoimmune disorders have been linked to diabetes.
- Genetics – Some dogs are more prone to developing diabetes.
Treating Canine Diabetes
The first step to treating canine diabetes is seeing your vet.
If your dog is displaying any of the above symptoms, especially those of advanced diabetes, it’s important to take him to the vet right away.
Your vet can perform an exam and bloodwork to determine the cause of your dog’s symptoms.
If your dog does have diabetes, your vet can also help guide you through the treatment process, helping you ensure the best outcome for your dog.
Your vet will most likely recommend a food specially formulated for diabetic dogs.
This food helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Your vet will likely encourage you to give no table food or extra treats, as these additions to the diet can adversely affect his blood sugar levels.
In general, the diet recommended for a diabetic dog includes complex carbohydrates and fiber to ensure more regulated blood sugar levels, quality protein, and in some cases with dogs who are prone to pancreatitis, lower fat.
Your vet will recommend daily moderate exercise for your dog.
This helps his body regulate blood sugar levels, avoiding spikes or sudden drops.
In addition, exercise helps keep him trim which reduces his resistance to insulin and helps his body work better overall.
Most diabetic dogs require daily insulin shots to help their bodies maintain proper blood sugar levels.
These shots are subcutaneous (under the skin) and given with a very fine needle. Usually dogs don’t even feel the poke.
Knowing When to Put a Diabetic Dog Down is Better for You and Your Friend
Knowing when to put a diabetic dog down BEFORE you have to do it helps arm you with the information you need to back the best choice possible for your friend.
When you can correctly identify signs of discomfort or pain and see a timeline of more bad days than good, it helps you know exactly when it’s time to say goodbye.
It’s important to note that in my experience of working at the vet and rescuing dozens and dozens of dogs over the years, they’re often ready to go before you’re ready to say goodbye.
Be prepared for heartbreak, but never allow yourself to feel guilty. Remember, earlier is better than later.
If your dog is terminally ill, he will die regardless, but the last, final act of true love we can give our dogs as owners is to spare them extra pain.
If you’re going through this right now, I’m sorry.
I know how it feels better than most, but I also know that it is far kinder to relieve them of pain than it is to hang on for our own needs.
Hopefully, this post on knowing when to put a diabetic down will relieve your guilt, and allow you to make decisions that are best for your dog. Good luck!