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Can man's best friend hold the key to tackling diabetes?


A recent study investigates therapeutic strategies for dogs with the disease that may also benefit humans with diabetes

Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) are prevalent metabolic disorders that affect more than 500 million people worldwide. Yet, therapeutic strategies are often hindered by the inability of traditional animal models to accurately reproduce human disease phenotypes. A recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE indicates that dogs are potential models for T2DM and IGT.

Canine diabetes

Photo: cynoclub/Adobe Stock

Why choose dogs over other animal models? This is because canines are one of the more promising models for studying human metabolic disorders. Canines are known to share genetic diversity and physiological similarities with humans. This provides a more realistic representation of the performance of potential therapies.

When examining dogs (N = 32) fed a hypercaloric high-fat high-fructose diet (HFFD), a common dietary habit of humans, observations paralleled humans in their progression to IGT. Similarly, the canine response to HFFD created similar precursors of human T2DM. Not only did the canine participants gain weight on the HFFD, but they also exhibited metabolic changes strikingly similar to early-stage human T2DM. Within just 4 weeks, these dogs experienced a 50% decrease in insulin sensitivity, mirroring the journey from normal metabolism to IGT in humans, according to investigators. Imagine a model that not only replicates weight gain but captures the intricate nature of insulin resistance and β-cell dysfunction seen in the early stages of diabetes.

To dig deeper, the study aimed to expand our understanding of disease pathophysiology. To do this, the researchers hypothesized an accurate replication of key attributes of human T2DM and IGT. From this they discovered a cascade of physiologic shifts. The researchers observed declines in insulin sensitivity, significant decreases in early-phase insulin release, and an associated decrease in disposition index (the measure of the body's ability to dispose of a glucose load). All of these changes mirror T2DM’s pathophysiology in humans.

The HFFD canine model provides not only translatable insights into disease pathophysiology but also a tangible and readily available avenue for testing groundbreaking therapeutic interventions. This study is more than just a scientific breakthrough; it's an unveiling of a new frontier in diabetes research. Man's best friend might just hold the key to understanding and combating this global health challenge.

Ava Landry is a 2026 PharmD candidate, studying veterinary pharmacy, at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.


Gregory JM, Kraft G, Dalla Man C, et al. A high-fat and fructose diet in dogs mirrors insulin resistance and β-cell dysfunction characteristic of impaired glucose tolerance in humans. PLoS One. 2023;18(12):e0296400. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0296400

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