Do our pets reflect our health? A recent study in the British Medical Journal, which focused exclusively on diabetes and dog owners, suggests so. What does this study really say? Let’s take stock.
Already suspected correlations
How did these researchers come up with the idea of conducting such a study? Simply because there was already data from cross-sectional studies showing a correlation between obesity in domestic animals, specifically dogs, and their owners. One of the hypotheses put forward to explain these correlations was the sharing of unhealthy behaviors such as overeating and physical inactivity. Similarly, there are correlations between people living together. If your spouse has type 2 diabetes, you also have a higher risk of developing it. Of course, this only takes into account risk factors that can be shared, such as environmental and socioeconomic determinants.
The new study
Researchers from various university departments in different cities (Upsala, Liverpool, and Stockholm) carried out a prospective longitudinal study, which consisted of collecting data on specific parameters (in this case, the incidence of diabetes) by following a population for a maximum period of six years. 208,980 pairs of owners with dogs and 123,566 pairs of owners with cats were included in the study. People born after 1961 were excluded from the sample because they had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Applies to dog owners only
An association between type 2 diabetes in the pet and in the owner was only found in the dog owners, with an increased risk of 4% to 68%. No correlation was seen in cat owners. The authors tried to explain this by a weak correlation between the physical activity of the cat owners and their cat compared to that of dog owners and their dog.
However, the study has important limitations, such as incomplete information about diet and physical activity of the owners, surveillance bias in people who know the symptoms of diabetes because they have observed them in their dog or in their own home, failure to identify diabetics who are not being treated medically or the fact that the people included in the study had the means to have a serious and regular veterinary follow-up of their pet’s health.
So, what can we conclude from this study? Not much, aside from the fact that sharing certain lifestyle aspects with your pet could easily increase the incidence of type 2 diabetes in both of you. So pay attention to your dog’s diet and exercise with it, and you will kill two birds with one stone taking care of both your health and theirs.