Pet Care Shows Benefits for Glucose Monitoring of Adolescent Patients

Diabetes can be a difficult condition for patients to manage no matter how old they are, but it can be especially difficult during adolescence. A recent study looked at whether taking care of a water-loving friend could actually help young patients with diabetes take better care of themselves.

Diabetes can be a difficult condition for patients to manage no matter how old they are, but it can be especially difficult during adolescence. A recent study looked at whether taking care of a water-loving friend could actually help young patients with diabetes take better care of themselves.

According to a press release from UT Southwestern, the study looked at what role pet care might have on improving the monitoring of the patient’s blood glucose levels. The results of the study were published in The Diabetes Educator, and included 28 patients between the ages of 10 and 17 who all had type 1 diabetes.

Patients in the study were given a fish, fish bowl, and instructions on how to properly care for the pet. It was also recommended that they keep the fish in their bedroom. Participants were instructed to feed the fish in the morning and evening, and to use those occasions as prompts/reminders to check their blood glucose. The participants also changed one quarter of the water in their fish tanks once a week, at which time they would also review their glucose logs with a caregiver, according to the news release.

“Teenagers are one of the most difficult patient populations to treat, mainly because of the psychological factors associated with that stage of life,” Olga Gupta, MD, noted in the release. “We learned that instructing families to associate regular pet fish care with the child’s standard diabetes care significantly improved their hemoglobin A1C levels.”

Participants and their families also noted the success of the program, including some who had never had a pet before participating in the study. “Throughout the entire experience we owned 2 fish that became part of our family,” said Jeanette Claxton, the mother of one of the participants. “The first fish was named Bob, and Raymon would feed him, read to him, and even watch TV with him. He didn’t realize that he was talking about his diabetes more and taking his blood sugar more often.”

According to the school, after 3 months results showed a decrease of 0.5% in A1C levels while the control group showed an increase of 0.8%. “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 authors reported.

Gupta said the most significant decrease came in patients between 10 and 13 years old. “Children in this age group are often beginning to seek independence from their parents, and were more eager to care for the fish than some of the older adolescents,” she said.

The doctor also said the parents played a key role in the success of the study results. Gupta said the research will continue with patients being followed over a longer period of time and looking at other potential ways to improve glycemic control. Sunita Stewart, PhD, a psychiatry professor at the school, and Mary Lau, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics, assisted her in the study.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Partnerships for Cure, as well as a gift from the Dedman family.”