The metabolic syndrome (MetS) is one of the most important challenges to public health and biomedical research. Animal models of MetS, such as leptin-deficient obese mice, obese spontaneously hypertensive rats, JCR: LA-cp rats and the Ossabaw and Göttingen minipigs, have contributed to our understanding of the pathophysiological basis and the development of novel therapies. For a complex disease syndrome, no animal model can be expected to serve all needs of research. Although each animal model has limitations and strengths, used together in a complementary fashion, they are essential for research on the MetS and for rapid progress in understanding the aetiology and pathogenesis towards a cure. The purpose of this review is to assess how current animal models contributed to our knowledge of the human MetS, and to systematically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the currently available 78 animal models from 11 species.