If not treated, diabetic dogs have a life expectancy of about 60 days after diagnosis. However, if adequately treated by a vet, there’s no reason a diabetic dog can’t have a full life. Follow the vet’s advice, and your dog should be fine.
If your dog has just been diagnosed with diabetes, you probably have a ton of questions. We’ve compiled some helpful information below to help you through this difficult time.
Life Expectancy of Diabetic Dogs
There was once a time when a diagnosis of canine diabetes was the equivalent of a death sentence. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then, and although the disease is not curable, there are treatment options available.
If diagnosed early and appropriately treated, dogs with diabetes usually have normal lifespans.
Years ago, diabetic dogs usually only lived a couple of years after diagnosis, but this is no longer the case. If not treated, about half don’t live 60 days past diagnosis.
Types of Canine Diabetes
There are two types of canine diabetes:
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Diabetes Insipidus
Diabetes insipidus, also called water diabetes, is pretty rare and has to do with the way insulin is processed by the body, rather than a lack of insulin. It is usually caused by an underlying factor, such as a tumor or irregular hormones.
The more common form of canine diabetes is diabetes mellitus, which occurs when the pancreas doesn’t make enough (or any) insulin. Insulin is in charge of regulating blood sugar levels, so diabetic dogs end up with dangerously high blood sugar levels.
Diabetes mellitus is further broken down into two types:
- Type I: Insulin deficient diabetes. This is the most common form of canine diabetes. It requires lifelong insulin injections.
- Type II: Insulin resistant diabetes. This type of diabetes usually occurs in older, overweight dogs, and can be treated with a combination of diet, exercise, and insulin.
Canine Diabetes Complications
Most diabetic dogs don’t die of the disease itself, but rather from complications caused by the disease. Common health problems in diabetic dogs include:
- Kidney failure
- Blindness and cataracts
- Heart disease
- Muscle weakness
- Urinary tract infections
Below are the three most common complications that arise in diabetic dogs, their symptoms, and treatment.
Kidney failure results when the kidneys are no longer able to filter toxins in the body. It can be caused by illnesses in addition to diabetes, and is sometimes merely an unfortunate part of the aging process.
The treatment for renal failure can vary depending on several factors: whether it’s acute or chronic, the age and general health of the dog, and the stage at which it’s caught.
Signs of kidney failure to look out for are similar to those in diabetes, and include:
- Excessive drinking and urination
- Weight loss
Diabetic dogs are more susceptible to cataracts and blindness due to high levels of sugar in the eye fluids. The high glucose levels cause the lens to swell, causing cataracts and even blindness.
This process can be somewhat gradual, but can also happen in a short period. Some dog owners report their diabetic dog going to sleep with normal vision and waking up the next day blind.
This is why it’s important to be vigilant and get your dog’s blood sugar regulated quickly and maintained throughout his life.
It’s also strongly suggested that you see an ophthalmologist as soon as your dog is diagnosed with diabetes to discuss preventative options. See one as soon as there is any symptom of cataracts, which looks like a clouding of the eye.
If caught early and the dog is healthy enough, cataracts can be removed. If left untreated, they will get worse, causing the lens to split or glaucoma (pressure in the eye) to occur, causing permanent blindness and pain.
Urinary Tract Infections
The raised sugar levels in diabetic dogs can also lead to urinary tract infections.
If your dog regularly attempts to go to the bathroom and is unable to, cries while urinating, or frequently licks his or her genitals, schedule an appointment with your vet.
The vet will likely prescribe antibiotics or other medications. If your dog frequently comes down with UTIs, the vet may recommend a change in diet.
Be sure your dog has water freely available to prevent UTIs and speed up recovery time.
Factors Affecting Life Expectancy
In addition to whether your diabetic dog develops one of the above conditions because of diabetes, several factors influence life expectancy.
The more you know, the better able you’ll be able to ensure that your dog has a long, happy, healthy life even after a diabetes diagnosis.
There are prescription diabetes foods that contain lower sugar content, but some dogs don’t like them. It’s more important that the dog eat, so if he doesn’t like prescription food, don’t force it.
Just make sure to feed him regularly at set times twice a day. Dry food tends to have less sugar than wet, and a store-bought diet is usually healthier for the dog than homemade food.
The amount of insulin your dog gets at every dose will vary, depending on whether and how much the dog eats.
Do not restrict water for diabetic dogs, especially while trying to regulate diabetes. If they are drinking a lot, they may be trying to get rid of excess sugar.
Overweight dogs are more likely to suffer from diabetes, so make sure to keep his weight in a healthy range with a combination of diet and exercise.
Talk to your vet about the amount of exercise your dog needs, and make sure to remain consistent with it.
Exercise lowers blood sugar, and a sedentary lifestyle raises it. Make sure your dog is getting a moderate amount, to prevent his sugar levels from climbing or dropping out of the normal range.
Stress causes the body to release adrenaline and other stress hormones, which affect how insulin is absorbed in the body.
This causes blood sugar levels to increase, which can lead to ketoacidosis and death.
Ensure your diabetic dog is not placed under high levels of stress if that can possibly be avoided.
If a dog has poor health or serious pre-existing conditions before a diabetes diagnosis, there is a higher chance of complications.
Sick and older dogs do not always have the energy needed to recover as well as younger, otherwise healthy dogs.
Things to Consider
There are a few things to consider when deciding on the best course of action to take after a diabetes diagnosis.
Diabetic dogs need consistent care, usually consisting of insulin injections twice a day, every day.
If your schedule is packed or inconsistent, make sure to recruit family and friends who are comfortable giving injections to be on standby on days when you’re not home.
This can also complicate things for people who travel a lot – make sure your pet sitter is comfortable giving injections and knows how to monitor blood sugar and watch for signs that a trip to the vet is in order.
Regardless of your schedule, it’s incredibly imperative that you are available for your dog during the first few months while his diabetes is being regulated. Most dogs who die from diabetes do so during this phase, while their treatment is being sorted out.
The cost of caring for a diabetic dog can vary widely but will be most expensive initially, while the vet works out the best amount of insulin your dog needs.
After your dog’s diabetes is regulated, insulin can cost between $40-$200 a month. Be sure to shop around, as different pharmacies charge different prices.
In the initial stages of treatment, your vet will need to do blood glucose curves, which involves testing the dog’s blood every few hours for about 12 hours, every few weeks.
If you’re comfortable doing the blood test yourself, you might be able to do this at home, which will be less expensive.
Some people are happy to have their family vets treat their dog’s diabetes, but others prefer to see a specialist who knows more about the disease. Keep in mind that specialists can cost more than family vets, though.
Age and General Health
A significant factor when it comes to deciding how aggressively to treat diabetes is the age and overall health of the dog.
If the dog is young and otherwise healthy, proper diabetes treatment can mean a full and happy life.
If, on the other hand, the dog is elderly and already suffering from other conditions, some owners might opt to instead make the dog’s remaining time as comfortable as possible, rather than subjecting him to endless tests and injections.
Treatment for a diabetic dog will require commitment from you for the remainder of the dog’s life, but if the disease is caught and treated right away, the dog will likely live a full and happy life.
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