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Your Complete Guide to Diabetic Dog Life Expectancy

As a dog owner, I know how hard it is to find fast information on the things I worry about the most. If my dog were diagnosed with diabetes, I would want to know two things: what is a diabetic dog life expectancy, and what will my dog’s quality of life be.

The Complicated Answers of Diabetic Dog Life Expectancy

The answer to your question about life expectancy relies on two factors:

  • Catching the disease early
  • Commitment to lifelong treatment and care.

I’m going to give you the answers to both of these questions, and so much more. This article will give you a sound understanding of the diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing management of canine diabetes.  In fact, there are actually two answers to the question of diabetic dog life expectancy, and I am going to explain both answers in detail.

Identifying Dogs At Risk of Developing Diabetes

Dogs considered “at risk” of developing diabetes mellitus are generally:

  • Over-weight
  • Have an overall poor diet
  • Don’t get enough exercise

If diabetes is caught early, dog diabetes life expectancy prognosis is very good. In fact, the prognosis is considered excellent for early diagnosis. However, the long-term expectation is owner-compliance with treatment and regular follow-up care.

In order to do that, you will need to bring your dog for regular screening. Maintain regularly scheduled check-ups before signs and symptoms become obvious.

Regularly Scheduled Check-ups Could Mean the Difference in Quality of Life and Overall Life Expectancy

I’d be wrong to suggest that regular check-ups aren’t important, but I understanding why it’s not always done.  Unless your dog has other conditions that make it necessary, you might not be in the habit of bringing your dog in until you strongly suspect there’s a problem.

I get it!  I do the same thing.  Except now, I look at my dog and worry that she has all of the following risk factors of developing diabetes:

  • She’s overweight
  • She doesn’t get nearly as much as exercise as she should
  • She’s not old…but at seven, she’s not a puppy either.

The truth is, if you can nab diabetes in the early stages of the disease, your dog will likely go on to lead a full and happy life. On the flip side, ignored signs and symptoms will likely lead to organ damage and a shortened lifespan.

What To Look For Before Diabetes Takes Over Your Dog’s Health

The early-warning signs of diabetes that you don’t want to miss include:

  • frequent urination
  • excessive thirst
  • excessive appetite
  • sudden, unexplained weight loss.

Denial is a wonderful way to protect ourselves from a painful truth. -anonymous

Personally, I know that it’s time to bring my dog for a check-up. I can’t explain it, but something isn’t just right. I’m sure you understand. We work, have families, obligations, and other responsibilities. The truth is, we owe it to our dogs (our faithful companions) to give them the attention and care they deserve.

Advanced Signs of Diabetes – Diabetic Dog Life Expectancy

  • personality change
  • excessive panting
  • drastic change in appetite
  • sudden weight loss
  • fatigue
  • dehydration
  • urinary tract infections
  • fruity-smelling breath (ketoacidosis)

The Damaging Ocular Effects of Diabetes in Dogs

There is a similarity between dogs and humans with diabetes. Permanent organ damage can occur if diabetes is not treated.

However, the big difference is in the amount of time it takes these detrimental effects to take place.  If I had diabetes, it would take 10 to 20 years to develop serious eye complications. It only takes 12 to 18 months, however, for a dog to develop similar issues.

Diabetic Retinopathy – Vascular Disease

Dogs with diabetes have the potential to also known as diabetic eye disease”.  Consistently high blood sugar damages blood vessels within the body, particularly in the eye.

Four Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy:


Detected through an ocular exam that identifies swelling within the blood vessels of the eye.


Blood vessels become blocked.

Severe Nonprolific

An increase in blocked blood vessels leads to blocked blood flow to parts of the retina.


New, but weakened, blood vessels grow back but will leak blood causing vision loss.


The eye lens contains water and protein. As we age, those proteins sometimes clump together and get hard over time.  Vision loss occurs when these proteins harden and spread.  Dogs have similar risk-factors for cataracts, especially in a dog diagnosed with diabetes.

Just because your dog has cataracts doesn’t mean he/she also has diabetes. However, if your dog has diabetes, there’s a high chance he/she will develop cataracts. The main sign that your dog has cataracts is a cloudy, bluish tinge to the eye. Your dog will show signs of vision loss as the cataracts 


Uveitis is a painful inflammation of the middle eye layer. Dogs have three eye layers including the outer layer (cornea), the innermost layer (retina), and the uvea which is the middle layer. This layer consists of blood vessels and inflammation of this part can lead to blindness.

If your dog has uveitis, he may squint a lot. The eyes will be red and the pupil might look unusually shaped. There will likely be tearing and possibly discharge coming from the eye.

Retinal Lesions

After extended swelling of the eye, retinal lesions (small tears) can lead to retinal detachment.

A Case Study in Considering Diabetic Dog Life Expectancy

An abstract cited by I.P. Herring from The Journal of Veterinary Medicine reported how 17 client-owned dogs were monitored. Each dog had been diagnosed with diabetes less than a year earlier.

The dogs were evaluated once every six months for a total of two years. During that time, each dog was tested for:

  • blood pressure
  • urine albumin (a protein found in the blood, but not normally in the urine)
  • protein and creatinine concentrations (elevated creatinine concentrations signify kidney damage)
  • serial blood glucose (the amount of sugar in the blood)
  • serum fructosamine concentrations (high concentrations indicate the long-term elevation of blood sugar which helps determine disease progression)

Results of the study

73% of the dogs showed moderately high levels of albumen (called microalbuminuria), and 55% showed an elevated urine protein:creatinine ratio.

It’s interesting to note that only 20% of the dogs showed signs of retinopathy (vascular disease of the eye). The study did not include dogs with cataracts.  Therefore, it is possible that the number of dogs with retinopathy was greater than originally thought.

Early diagnosis is the key to a good diabetic dog life expectancy prognosis.

Diabetes Mellitus Since The Age of The Egyptians

Diabetes goes as far back as the Egyptians (at least). A translated manuscript describes a condition similar to Type 1 diabetes where people suffered from “great emptying of the urine”. That clinical description is significant with symptoms of diabetes.

The word “madhumeha” translates to “honey urine”, a term coined in the fifth century by Indian physicians.  The term signifies the presence of glycosuria in diabetic patients.

Non-healing wounds are treated immediately due to the risk of gangrene.  The first physician to describe gangrene as a complication of diabetes was Avicenna, a Persian polymath (meaning a person with a wide range of knowledge).

The 4 Types of Diabetes in Dogs

There is a difference between diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus. Diabetes Insipidus is an uncommon disease caused by the kidneys’ inability to regulate fluid in the body. In addition, it’s important to recognize other types of diabetes that can affect dogs.

Diabetes Mellitus

A condition where the pancreas cannot create enough insulin to battle the excess of sugar in the blood. Insulin is a naturally-occurring hormone that helps the body use food for energy. Consider insulin the “helper”. In a healthy body, insulin helps sugar get into blood cells. When this happens, the body is able to convert that sugar into energy. Without insulin, the sugar has nowhere to go and builds up in the blood.

Diabetes insipidus

Caused by the body’s inability to use a hormone called vasopressin, or antidiuretic hormone. This is a rare condition not seen in dogs. Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes are classifications to describe human variations of the disease. In Type 1, the pancreas stops producing insulin. In Type 2, the body continues to produce insulin, but the body’s cells can’t respond to it. It’s rare for a dog to have diabetes insipidus.

Transient Diabetes

Occurs when the early-warning signs of diabetes in dogs occur and then disappear. The problem with this is that, if forgotten, diabetes can return and remain initially undetected. As stated earlier, early diagnosis is key to maintaining your dog’s quality of life and life expectancy.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs only during pregnancy and resolves afterward.  Pregnant dogs can develop gestational diabetes.

The Increase in Canine Diabetes

Canine diabetes is on the rise for a few reasons:

  • Canine obesity
  • Lack of proper exercise
  • Poor nutrition

Unfortunately, it’s often with regretful hindsight that we identify these risk factors. Ideally, changes to diet and exercise occur before diabetes has a chance to develop.  A low fat/high fiber diet is beneficial for dogs with diabetes. This type of diet is thought to reduce the amount of insulin a dog needs.

Obesity is not only linked to diabetes, but can cause arthritis and other health problems for our dogs, and ourselves.

Dogs Become Obese For Different Reasons, Including:

  • Eating too many calories
  • Owner not feeding properly
  • Not following canine feeding guidelines
  • Free feeding (keeping the bowl full at all times)
  • Too many snacks, treats, and human foods
  • Reduced activity level
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Spay/neuter

Health Risks of Obesity Above and Beyond Diabetes

In addition to diabetes, obese dogs are at a higher risk of developing:

  • hypertension
  • osteoarthritis
  • skin conditions like
  • pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • breathing problems
  • heart problems
  • shorter life expectancy

Quality of Life Reality for YOU and Your Dog

Diabetic dog life expectancy depends on the stage of the disease. As an owner of a dog with diabetes, the onus will be on you to provide:

  • A completely new, doctor prescribed diet.
  • Severe reduction in the number of treats, snacks, and human food given to the dog.
  • Maintaining regular checkups with the veterinarian
  • Administering insulin injections on a timely basis.

There are so many things you take for granted when treating a dog with diabetes. Although the 2018 American Animal Hospital Association Diabetes Management Guidelines suggest a 2-hour difference before or after the scheduled dosage is acceptable, what happens if it’s more?

Many dog owners work for a living. That means your dog might be home alone for 8 hours or more per day. In order to adequately treat and care for a dog with diabetes, that has to change. Someone has to be around to administer the medication. In addition, whether you work or not, it’s imperative that your dog gets adequate exercise on a daily basis.

We’re happy to hear that an early diagnosis of diabetes can mean a full and happy life for our dogs, but the reality is that will only happen as a result of human due-diligence.

The American Animal Hospital Association 2018 Diabetes Management Guidelines

The following is a snapshot of recent AAHA updates to the Diabetes Management Guidelines. Changes include original content from 2010 along with new guidelines. Veterinary professionals were part of this task force.

Points taken from the guidelines reflect directly on the likelihood of a dog owner being able to consistently monitor and care for a diabetic dog. Likewise, the report identified the most common medications prescribed for canine diabetes, along with dosing recommendations.

Types of Insulin Used in Dogs with Diabetes


Vetsulin (Merk Animal Health)  is approved for use in dogs and cats. Lente is an intermediate-acting drug, meaning it doesn’t work right away, and it doesn’t last as long in the dog’s system.  The lowest concentrations of the drug can be found in the dog’s body from 1 to 10 hours and the total duration of the drug is up to 24 hours.


Lente is administered by injection pen in 0.5 units or 1 unit increments.


A diabetic dog’s life expectancy hinges on the proper treatment, including proper and timely administration of insulin.

This particular product is most often used in cats with diabetes, not dogs.


PZI is another recombinant DNA insulin commonly used in humans. The FDA has not officially approved the use of this drug in dogs. It has, however, been approved for use in cats.

This long-acting drug, known by the brand name Prozinc, is commonly used in cats for the treatment of diabetes mellitus. 

This brand of insulin is occasionally used in dogs, although it has not been approved.  Generally, a starting dose of 0.25 units/kilogram is used. Dogs with difficult-to-control diabetic symptoms are given a higher dose.


NPH is another intermediate acting drug which, again, means that it doesn’t work immediately. Although not officially approved for use in dogs, options for treatment include a starting dose of 0.25 units/kilogram taken once every 12 hours.

Veterinarians who prescribe NPH should be using the lowest starting dose for a large dog and the higher dose for a smaller dog.

Adjusting Insulin Dosages for Dogs

When dogs first begin insulin therapy, it can take a while to reach that perfect dose. Dosages are calculated on units per kilogram, with the lowest starting dose first.

During this phase, dogs are normally hospitalized for one or two days in order to begin insulin therapy under close surveillance. During this time, blood sugar levels are recorded at the time that insulin is administered. Approximately 3, 6, and 9 hours later, blood sugar levels are retested.

Insulin Sensitivity

Unfortunately, some dogs are sensitive to insulin and there’s no way of knowing how your dog will react until he/she is on the drug. In the 24 to 48-hour interval of hospitalization, doctors try to determine how much is too much, and how much insulin is not enough. The trick is to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

When hypoglycemia occurs, insulin is decreased. If the dog is experiencing hyperglycemia, a minor insulin adjustment is conducted. However, the goal during this initial phase of treatment is to:

  • reverse the metabolic damages caused by the disease
  • instruct the owner on insulin management and diet control for the dog
  • provide the owner time to get used to treating the dog at home.

NOTE: The treatment plan prescribed by the veterinarian is crucial when it comes to diabetic dog life expectancy.

How Will I Manage This New Schedule When I Get Home?

I’m not going to lie. Adjusting to a totally new routine that revolves around the health of your dog is going to be a big adjustment. 

In addition, you’re also going to need to look at an entirely new diet for your dog.  One of the key indicators to diabetic dog life expectancy is in the quality of food your dog gets, and the amount of healthy exercise.

To help you with that, I’ve included a dog-diabetic-friendly recipe, along with more tips on appropriate food choices for your dog.

MEAL FOR YOUR DIABETIC DOG *watch portion size and check with the veterinarian. Rice (carbs) might be okay in small amounts – but check with the doctor first!


  • 2 cups cooked brown rice.
  • 2 cups ground turkey
  • 1 cup cooked kidney beans
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 to 10,000 IU Vitamin A and B capsule
  • 1/8 tsp. iodized salt


Cook the turkey then add the oil from the capsules and mix well. Take all of the ingredients and mix together thoroughly. 

Good Food For Your Diabetic Dog

Following a diabetic friendly diet to your dogs is one of the top most important things you can do to build diabetic dog life expectancy.  Remember, as a diabetic, your dog cannot metabolize certain foods the same way that we can.

I give out too many treats, something I do as a sign of love. Now that I recognize that about myself, I’ve significantly reduced the number of treats I give to my dog.  I don’t want to be faced with the question of diabetic dog life expectancy. But, if it does happen, I know there are valuable ways to extend her life and improve her overall health.

Instead of giving my dog so many treats now, I get on the floor and spend a little time with my dog.  It’s still not the same as a treat, but I also feel as if I’m giving her the love she deserves.

The following is a list of foods your dog (all dogs) should not eat.

  • Raisins
  • Onions
  • Wheat gluten
  • Cornmeal
  • Canned food
  • fatty organ meat/skin
  • White rice
  • Chocolate
  • Wheat flour
  • Garlic
  • Baked doggy treats
  • Grapes
  • Sugar
  • Artificial sweeteners  NOTE:  XYLITOL IS POISONOUS FOR YOUR DOG. Do not feed your dog anything with artificial sweeteners to be safe.

Buying Dog Food Brands

In my opinion, the only person you should depend on for diabetic dog food advice is the veterinarian.  Some pet supply stores have staff who are knowledgeable about the products on the shelf, but they don’t know your dog.  Like humans, every dog is different.

If you are looking for less expensive dog meals, your veterinarian can suggest high-quality recipes, products, and may even have product samples if you ask.

When looking for dog food off-the-shelf, look for dog food that has been approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). This organization is responsible for determining levels of proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals in pet food.

How much food should you give?

Your veterinarian will give you strict guidelines on your dog’s food consumption based on your dog’s weight and advancement of diabetes. To give you an example of how human food translates into dog food consumption, I’ve included the chart below:

Partners for Healthy Pets published the following:

Snack (fed to a 20 lb. dog) / Human Caloric Equivalent

1 Small Cookie= 1 Hamburger
1 oz. Cheddar Cheese= 1½ Hamburgers
1 Hot Dog= 2½ Hamburgers

Everything is fine when the doctor is nearby, but what happens when you get home? Change is never easy.

You now have a complete package of information to push your dog toward a long, happy life.

Please take a second to share with family, friends, and other dog lovers like you.  Don’t forget to leave me a comment!  I love hearing from readers.