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Dogs share an increased risk of diabetes with their owners

Dog owners are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if their dog has diabetes, according to research from Uppsala University. The researchers report that they found no evidence of a shared risk of diabetes among cats and cat owners. 

Previous studies have suggested a link between obesity in dog owners and their pets, which indicates that these pairs may share common health behaviors like physical activity levels. 

More than 400 million people have type 2 diabetes and this number is expected to increase in the coming decades. The projected increase is partly tied to rising rates of obesity.

The study was focused on Swedish veterinary insurance records combined with Swedish population and health registers. From this data, the researchers extracted information on pet owners throughout the country. Overall, more than 175,000 dog owners, nearly 90,000 cat owners, and all of their pets were included in the study.

The analysis revealed that owning a dog with diabetes was associated with a 38-percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes. This estimate did not significantly change after the team adjusted for a range of other risk factors.

The risk of developing diabetes was also 28 percent higher in dogs with an owner who had type 2 diabetes compared with dogs with an owner who did not have type 2 diabetes. 

“Our results indicate that a dog with diabetes in the household might signal an increased risk of the dog owner developing type 2 diabetes as well,” said study co-senior author Beatrice Kennedy. 

“We have not had access to information about household lifestyle behaviours, but we think the association might be due to shared physical activity patterns and possibly also shared dietary habits as well as shared risk of adiposity. If shared exercise habits are indeed a key factor, it might further help explain why we don’t see any shared diabetes risk in cat owners and their cats.”

Because this was an observational study, the underlying cause between the shared risk of diabetes was not established. In addition, the analysis was limited to pet owners with the financial resources to obtained veterinary insurance and who received drug treatment for their diabetes.

Regardless, the researchers say this was a robust study showing that owning a dog with diabetes was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in the owner, which could not be explained by socioeconomic circumstances.

“Humans and dogs have lived together for at least 15,000 years, and continue to share their everyday lives for better or worse,” said study co-senior author Professor Tove Fall.

“In this unique study, we show that there might be common lifestyle and environmental factors that influence the risk of diabetes in the household, both in the dogs and in their owners.”

The study is published in the journal The BMJ.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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