Dog owners 38% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if pet has the condition, study suggests

Attractive young woman with labrador outdoors. Woman on a green grass with dog labrador retriever.
Dogs and their owners may share a similar risk of diabetes. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

It is commonly said that dogs take after their owners, with new research suggesting they may even share a similar risk of diabetes.

Scientists from Uppsala University in Sweden analysed more than 208,000 owner-dog pairs.

After linking the data to health registers, the team found owning a dog with diabetes was associated with a 38% increased risk of the owner developing the type 2 form of the disease.

Type 2 diabetes is often linked to obesity or being inactive and is more common than type 1. The latter occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks pancreatic cells that produce the blood-sugar-lowering hormone insulin.

The results further suggest the risk of a dog being diagnosed with any form of diabetes is 28% higher if their owner has type 2.

Read more: Dog walkers 78% more likely to catch coronavirus in first lockdown

Previous research suggests dogs are more likely to carry excess weight if their owner also has an elevated body mass index.

With dogs being somewhat dependent on their owners for exercise, inactive people not taking their pet for regular walks may also trigger type 2 diabetes’ onset in them both.

Young woman measures blood sugar level. Diabetes using lancet.
People with diabetes have to check their blood-sugar levels regularly. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

In the UK alone, 3.9 million people were diagnosed with diabetes in 2019, of whom around nine in 10 (90%) had type 2.

In 2018, 34.2 million Americans – 10.5% of the population – had diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes comes about when the body is unable to make a sufficient amount of insulin or if the hormone it does produce does not work properly.

Unless properly controlled, diabetes can have serious complications, like blindness, limb amputations and heart attacks.

With life expectancies and obesity rates rising around the world, type 2 diabetes diagnoses are also expected to increase. The Uppsala scientists therefore set out to uncover whether owning a pet alters a person’s risk.

Read more: Pets 'helped people cope emotionally' during lockdown

Using veterinary care insurance data, the team identified more than 208,000 owner-dog pairs and 123,000 owner-cat pairs between 1 January 2004 and 31 December 2006.

This information was linked to Swedish health and drug registers to identify type 2 diabetes cases in the pet owners, and any form of diabetes in the animals themselves, over a six-year follow-up period.

The scientists did not specify the type of diabetes developed by the pets, however, dogs tend to get type 1, while cats are more at risk of type 2.

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Results, published in The BMJ, suggest owning a dog with diabetes is associated with a 38% increased risk of the owner developing type 2. This is compared to having a dog that does not have the condition.

Among dogs, the risk of developing diabetes was found to be 28% higher in the pets whose owner had type 2, compared with the animals whose owner did not have the disease.

The results largely remained the same after the scientists adjusted for other factors that may influence a human’s or dog’s diabetes risk, like age and the animal’s breed.

The scientists wondered whether overweight owners with type 2 diabetes may feed their dog more treats, table scraps or larger portions.

Read more: Death of a pet can lead to depression in children

No link was found, however, between diabetes in cats and their owners.

Although unclear, this may be due to cats not being dependent on humans for exercise.

The scientists stressed they did not take into account the diet or activity level of the owners or pets, which both influence the risk of diabetes.

The owners also had to be financially comfortable enough to take out veterinary insurance, with previous research linking type 2 diabetes’ onset to a low income.

Nevertheless, the scientists added dogs with diabetes “could serve as a sentinel for shared diabetogenic [diabetes causing] health behaviours and environmental exposures”.

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