Pediatric diabetes researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas found incorporating routine pet care into a child’s diabetes self-care plan can significantly improve monitoring of the disease, resulting in lower blood glucose levels.
The study, which appeared in the April issue of the The Diabetes Educator, followed the pet care and diabetes management tasks of 28 adolescents, with Type 1 diabetes mellitus, ages 10 to 17.
“We learned that instructing families to associate regular pet fish care with the child’s standard diabetes care significantly improved their hemoglobin A1C levels,” the study’s senior author Olga Gupta, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at UT Southwestern, said in a news release. Study participants selected for the intervention group were provided a fish (Betta splendens), a fish bowl, instructions for caring for the fish and recommendations to set up the fish bowl in their bedroom. They were instructed to feed their fish in the morning and in the evening, checking their own blood glucose level each time, according to the release. Then, they were asked to change one-fourth of the water in the fish bowl once a week and review their own blood glucose logs with a caregiver.
Routine pet care helps a 12-year-old boy
“He never had the opportunity to have a pet, and if it meant helping him improve his blood sugar, then I was all for it,” Jeanette Claxton, mother of 12-year-old Raymon Miles, Jr., a participant in the study, said in the release. “Throughout the entire experience we owned two fish that became part of our family. The first fish was named Bob, and Raymon would feed him, read to him and even watch TV with him. “He didn’t even realize that he was talking about his diabetes more and taking his blood sugar more often.”
After three months, the intervention group’s A1C levels decreased 0.5% compared to their peers in the control group, who experienced a 0.8% increase in A1C levels. While a decrease in blood glucose levels was seen in all ages, the benefits of the behavioral intervention were more pronounced in the study’s younger participants. The decrease was greater in the adolescents ages 10 to 13 as that age group was more willing to care for the pet than older participants, according to the release.
Findings from the study also suggest the importance of parental involvement in helping the adolescents establish a regular routine to monitor their blood glucose levels.
Next steps include studying a group of adolescents for a longer period of time, as well as identifying the specific mechanisms leading to the glycemic improvement, such as type of pet, mood, conscientiousness, routine or level of parental involvement, according to the release.
Gupta’s laboratory is part of the UT Southwestern Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research, a multidisciplinary research center focused on studying both basic and clinical aspects of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. •
Read the full study.