More than one-third of the worldwide population is overweight or obese and therefore at risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus. In order to mitigate this pandemic, safer and more potent therapeutics are urgently required. This necessitates the continued use of animal models to discover, validate and optimize novel therapeutics for their safe use in humans. In order to improve the transition from bench to bedside, researchers must not only carefully select the appropriate model but also draw the right conclusions. In this Review, we consolidate the key information on the currently available animal models of obesity and diabetes and highlight the advantages, limitations and important caveats of each of these models.