Researchers behind a new study believe caring for a pet may lead to better regulation of diabetes, especially in adolescents. Since adolescents can display stubborn attitudes towards regular maintenance of diabetes symptoms, pets may help teenagers with managing Type 1 diabetes during this stage of life.
Researchers studied 28 adolescent patients between the ages of 10 and 17 at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Each patient was given a pet fish to care for over a period of time. During that period of time, each patient fed the pet in the morning and evening, and then changed one-fourth of the water in the fish’s bowl once per week. Each time a patient fed a fish, it was a reminder to check his/her glucose levels. And when the patients changed the water in the tank, they reviewed the notes they had taken about their blood sugar levels with a caregiver.
“Caring for pets gave teenagers a sense of responsibility similar to an adult caring for a child.”
The Global Diabetes Community of Britain noted the intervention group with the fish showed 0.5 percent lower blood sugar levels after three months as compared to the control group that received regular care. Younger patients, from ages 10 to 13, showed better overall response to pet therapy, likely due to the new routine of caring for a pet.
Caring for pets gave teenagers a sense of responsibility similar to an adult caring for a child. Likewise, caring for a pet spilled over into the patients caring for their own health, which is an aspect of diabetes care doctors tried to quantify in this study. One parent noted how two pet fish became part of the family, as her son watched television with his pets. Before long, the patient began talking more and more about his blood sugar levels and taking care of his diabetes.
In addition to prescribing medications and dietary guidelines, pediatricians may consider pet therapy as a way to manage Type 1 diabetes. Pet fish aren’t as expensive as a cat or dog, and this pet still gives young patients something to focus on while going through treatment. Parents can learn valuable lessons as well, by noting that adolescents sometimes just need proper motivation to complete tasks.