A new study, which appears in The Diabetes Educator, is showing that routine pet care incorporated into a child’s life who has diabetes can significantly improve monitoring of the disease. Incorporating routine pet care into the child’s diabetes self-care plan results in lower blood glucose levels, according to the UT Southwestern Medical Center pediatric diabetes researchers. This new study is showing that there is even a specific age group of adolescents who feel more of a bond and happiness with the new pet ownership, and this could be the age when children find themselves wanting to gain responsibility and independence.
Senior author of the study, Dr. Olga Gupta, said that “ Teenagers are one of the most difficult patient populations to treat, mainly because of the many psychosocial factors associated with that stage of life.” Gupta is an assistant professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at UT Southwestern, and she treats patients at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, TX. The study showed that instructing the families to associate regular pet fish care with the child’s routine diabetes care improved their hemoglobin A1C levels significantly. The study followed pet care and diabetes management of 28 adolescents ages 10 to 17 who had Type 1 diabetes mellitus.
It is estimated that 1.25 million children and adults in America have Type 1 diabetes, which is when the body fails to produce the insulin needed to convert sugar and starch into energy. Type 1 diabetes is approximately 5 percent of all diabetes cases and is the leading cause of diabetes in children of all ages. The participants for the study were given a fish, a fish bowl, and instructions on how to take care of the fish. The children were to setup the fish in their bedroom and were instructed to feed the fish in the morning and in the evening, and then to check their blood sugar levels each time. The children were then asked to change one-fourth of the water in the fish bowl once a week, and then review the blood glucose logs with a caregiver or parent.
The intervention group’s A1C levels decreased by .5 percent when compared to the peers that were in the control group, who ended up with a .8 percent increase in A1C levels. All children of various ages showed a decrease in blood glucose levels, but the benefits of the behavioral intervention was more pronounced in the younger participants of the study. The children who were between ages 10 and 13 had a greater decrease in A1C levels. This is the age group when children are trying to seek independence from their parents, and they were often more eager to take care of the fish than the older adolescents in the study.
The study findings also suggest that parental involvement in helping adolescents establish a routine to monitor blood glucose levels is very important. The next steps for this study include studying adolescents for a longer period of time, and identifying the mechanisms that lead to the improvement in the glycemic index. The mechanisms that could be involved include the type of pet, the routine, level of parental involvement, mood and conscientiousness. Whether your child owns a fish, cat or dog, there is something to be said about a younger person owning a pet and then relating that to diabetes self-reporting and care. What happens is that the children relate owning the pet to owning their diabetes, which means they will become more responsible in terms of doing what they need to do to take care of their diabetes at home, including checking blood sugar levels regularly.
There have been numerous studies previously that have shown how owning a pet can reduce blood sugar levels and relieve anxiety and depression. These previous studies however have not looked at younger children in relation to the management and care of specific health conditions, such as diabetes. The best part of this study is that it shows that children are able to develop an effective home routine to take care of their diabetes, which helps set them up for a lasting positive routine that can help ward off the complications of diabetes later in life.