Does muscle physiology play a role in developing insulin resistance in domestic cats and dogs?

What is the problem?

The rate of diabetes has increased in domestic animal populations. Dogs are believed to develop a form of diabetes that is similar to type 1 diabetes in humans.

Breed seems to be a risk factor for diabetes with various breeds showing different predispositions to the disease, e.g. it seems that Samoyeds, Swedish Elkhound, Lapphund, Fox Terriers, Australian Terriers, Pugs and Poodles are at a higher risk for developing diabetes. While Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels, Collies and Boxers are at a lower risk for developing the disease. Cats are believed to have a form of diabetes similar to type 2 diabetes in humans, with obesity being a major risk factor.

It appears that the breed of your cat or dog may be a risk factor in developing diabetes, but what causes this predisposition is still unknown.

With the vital role of skeletal muscle in glucose regulation, and the link between fibre type and insulin sensitivity – “Does muscle physiology play a role in developing insulin resistance in domestic cats and dogs?”

What was found?

This project is divided into two studies:

Study 1 – to collect baseline values from healthy animals.
Study 2 – to collect samples from animals that are diabetic.

Study 1

For the first study, we have collected muscle samples from 16 breeds of non-diabetic dogs. The muscles were analysed for muscle fibre type, fibre size and key markers of the major metabolic pathways in order to provide baseline data. Results to follow.



Future directions

Our aim is to continue analyses of the samples, specifically to determine:

  • the profile of the glucose transport system in the muscle, and
  • the insulin receptor complex.

The next study will involve collecting muscle samples from animals that are diabetic. 

Research team

The research team comprises:

  • Prof Johan Schoeman (University of Pretoria)
  • Dr Johan Steyl (University of Pretoria)
  • Kathryn van Boom – MSc 2019


This project was funded by the National Research Foundation of South Africa.