Caring for Pets Can Help Improve Diabetes in Type 1 Kids

Teenagers with type 1 diabetes may have better health outcomes if they care for pets, according to a new study.

Researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center found that routine pet care - as part of an overall diabetes treatment plan - was linked to better management of the condition and lower blood glucose levels in adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17.

"Teenagers are one of the most difficult patient populations to treat, mainly because of the many psychosocial factors associated with that stage of life," said study author Dr. Olga Gupta, assistant professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at UT Southwestern. "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 findings stressed that taking ownership and responsibility of a pet might help kids with type 1 diabetes take more control of their own health.

Younger kids may benefit more

Children in the study were provided with a pet fish and given instructions for caring for the fish.

Researchers compared the A!C levels of the pet-caretaker kids with a group of control subjects. After three months, kids who had been taking care of the fish showed a 0.5 percent decrease in A1C levels compared with the control group kids, who experienced a 0.8 percent rise in A1C levels.

Younger children, between the ages of 10 and 13, seemed to benefit the most.

"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," said Gupta.

Gupta said she would recommend pet care responsibilities for children with diabetes, as well as that parents help kids establish a routine.

"It creates ownership not just of the fish, but ownership of your diabetes," she explained. "When you own it, diabetes doesn't own you."

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center

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