Britain's Pets Face a Skyrocketing Diabetes Epidemic

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Own a tubby tabby, or a fat Fido? If you want your fuzzy friend to live a long life, consider putting it on a diet—or at the very least, stop sharing those table scraps.

According to The New York Post, British pet insurer Animal Friends recently conducted a five-year study of nearly 9000 animals. They found that the number of dogs and cats diagnosed with diabetes—a disease where the body can't produce enough insulin, or properly use it—has risen by 850 percent for dogs and 1161 percent for cats since 2011.

To come up with these figures, Animal Friends selected 9000 pets of the 400,000–600,000 animals insured by the company during the five-year study (2011–2016); these 9000 animals were insured throughout the entire period. "The data comes from our claims data, i.e. it is based on policyholders and the claims they have made for diabetes and diabetes-related treatments," Animal Friends content strategist Elena Barnard told mental_floss in an email.

“With weight issues and diabetes on the rise amongst humans, we assumed we would find the same in people’s pets, but the 900 percent rise we uncovered was shocking,” Westley Pearson, director of claims and marketing for Animal Friends, told Pet Gazette. “It shows a clear gap in Britain’s knowledge regarding proper care of their pets.”

Cats, in particular, face a much higher risk of contracting diabetes than their canine counterparts. According to Animal Friends’ findings, the cat breed most commonly diagnosed with diabetes is the British shorthair (not surprising, considering the round, plush feline is known for its tendency to tip the scales). Other breeds that face a high diabetes rate are the Burmese, foreign shorthairs, Maine coons, and Abyssinians.

As for dogs, West Highland terriers experience the highest incidence of diabetes, followed by Labradors, King Charles spaniels, huskies, and miniature schnauzers. Experts don’t know why these specific animals are more prone toward the condition, nor whether the phenomenon can be attributed to genetics or lifestyle factors.

While this particular study wasn't conducted in the U.S., it's likely that our pets are facing a similar health crisis. In 2012, 57.9 percent of pet cats in the U.S. were found to be overweight or obese, along with an estimated 52.7 percent of dogs. Obesity increases a pet’s risk for diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and other conditions.

After hearing these stats, your first instinct might be to place your pet on a regimented diet (no free feeding!), and to try to encourage physical activity with walks and toys. But what can you do if your animal has already contracted diabetes? The below infographic by Animal Friends tells you what symptoms to look out for (ironically, weight loss is one of them), and how to care for a pet with the critical condition.

[h/t The New York Post]