In this study, streptozotocin-induced severely diabetic rats and streptozotocin-nicotinamide-induced mildly diabetic rats were established to compare their characteristics and to investigate the hypoglycaemic effects of antidiabetic drugs. Results show that in streptozotocin-induced severely diabetic rats, the pancreatic insulin content decreased to approximately 10% of that in normal rats. These severely diabetic rats also exhibited marked hyperglycaemia and impaired glucose tolerance due to insulin secretory deficiency. In contrast, the pancreatic insulin content was approximately 50% of normal levels in streptozotocin-nicotinamide-induced mildly diabetic rats. These mildly diabetic rats exhibited moderate hyperglycaemia and impaired glucose tolerance due to loss of early-phase insulin secretion. Voglibose (α-glucosidase inhibitor), metformin (biguanide), glibenclamide (sulfonylurea), sitagliptin (dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitor) and insulin significantly improved glucose tolerance in streptozotocin-nicotinamide-induced mildly diabetic rats. In contrast, in streptozotocin-induced severely diabetic rats, voglibose, metformin and insulin significantly improved glucose tolerance, but no significant effect was observed for glibenclamide and sitagliptin due to a decreased insulinotropic effect. These results suggest that streptozotocin-nicotinamide-induced mildly diabetic rats, which exhibit a mild decline in glucose tolerance due to loss of early-phase insulin secretion, are sensitive to the hypoglycaemic effects of insulinotropic agents and have many pathological features resembling type 2 diabetes, which may be useful in the pharmacological investigation of numerous antidiabetic drugs.