Managing diabetes can be difficult enough. From the moment you wake up, you have to be mindful of blood sugar levels and how your day’s plans may affect your ability to manage your glycemic index. Simply grabbing a quick donut and heading out the door is not an option.
If you already have your hands full with diabetes management, it may seem like a bad idea to add pet management to your daily roster.
However, there are some compelling reasons why pets can be particularly helpful for those living with diabetes.
If you’ve been considering adding a pet to your family, here are a few facts that may encourage you to go for it:
1. Stress Relief and Management
While there are plenty of studies that link pet ownership and reduced stress levels, it rarely takes more than personal experience to know that petting an animal helps make you calmer and happier. Studies have also shown that pet owners can more quickly bounce back from stressful situations and may have milder responses to stress to begin with. According to ADW Diabetes, “Cuddling a pet or even watching one can calm you down and even lower your blood pressure.” Are you smiling right now just thinking about snuggling a playful puppy or cute kitten? We thought so.
In a 2016 study by Louise Maranda and Olga T. Gupta, it was noted that stress can have a negative impact on self-care and glycemic control. While this is likely no surprise to those living with diabetes, the study specifically took a look at how animal companionship can moderate stress. “Research has shown that animals can ameliorate the effects of potentially stressful life events, reduce anxiety levels, loneliness and depression, and enhance feelings of autonomy, competence and self-esteem.”
In a study that took a look at stress in cat owners as compared to dog owners, Lawrence McGill, veterinary pathologist, noted that, “it is the petting that brings down stress levels.” It follows that any animal you enjoy petting (and that doesn’t mind being pet) may have a stress-reducing effect.
2. Loyal Companionship
An animal friend is a great friend to have because they never hold grudges, will always be happy to see you, and will never think any outfit makes you look fat. Having an animal around reduces loneliness, and their unconditional love can boost mood and self-esteem. If you live alone, having a pet means you’ll always have a listening ear, and it may even help provide opportunities for human social interaction while you take your pet out for walks or to the pet store. If you live with family or friends, a pet provides something even the best of friends struggle with: unlimited listening capacity and zero unsolicited advice or comments.
3. A Routine (It’s Important!)
People living with diabetes are aware of the importance of a solid routine. Having a pet, even a low-maintenance one like a fish or a bird, can help establish a daily routine, as there will be, at the very least, regular feeding and cleaning. Having a pet care routine can help you establish your own daily routine, which in turn can help with consistent diabetes management. In a study that compared glycemic control between pet-owning and non-pet-owning youth, researchers found that being involved in the care of a household pet promoted self-efficacy and had a positive effect on self-care behaviors.
Taking good care of a pet, especially a high-maintenance animal like a dog, forces you to get up and out at certain times each day. Sticking to a pet care routine may help you stick to a diabetes management routine, and taking care of a pet may help create more positive associations with routine and self-care.
4. Pets Make the Best Exercise Buddies!
OK, this may not be as big of a perk if an iguana or hamster is your pet of choice, but if you’re inclined to consider canine companionship, you’ll be glad to know that dog owners are more likely to meet the recommended amount of daily exercise.
Even if you might prefer to relax in front of the TV, having a dog that loves (and needs) daily exercise will help motivate you to do something we all should be doing anyway. Regular physical activity can help prevent weight gain or even promote weight loss, which can help control blood sugar levels for those with type 2 diabetes.
For those living with type 1, exercise can help control blood sugar levels by having an insulin-like effect. Regular exercise may result in needing to inject less insulin.
While dog ownership certainly should encourage exercise, it will also likely make it more enjoyable, and therefore increase long-term adherence. Your furry friend’s enthusiasm for the outdoors will likely rub off on you, and if you can get your cat to take walks with you, then way to go!
5. Serious Health Benefits
There is a lot of research that examines the links between pet ownership and health benefits, and not all studies come to the same conclusions. Certainly dog ownership has been studied the most, but causal relationships between owning a pet and better health are hard to nail down. The American Heart Association notes, “It may be that healthier people are more likely to be pet owners or that people with dogs tend to exercise more.” However, since we know that stress increases the risk of many adverse health factors, including heart attack, depression, and type 2 diabetes; and we know that pet ownership reduces stress, it’s not surprising that so many studies have found correlation between pet ownership and improved health. For example, studies have found that dog owners:
- Are 15% less likely to have high blood pressure
- 30% less likely to have high cholesterol
- 35% less likely to have symptoms of depression
Cat owners showed a 30% lower risk of death from heart-attack compared to those without cats, and being involved in the care of a pet had a positive relationship with glycemic control in youth with type 1 diabetes.
While it’s hard to draw hard and fast conclusions about the relationship between pet ownership and good health, correlation is strong. If you’ve been thinking about a four-legged companion, this is certainly encouraging news.
6. Early Alert System
Some dog owners have reported their canine pals alerted them to hypoglycemic events. Because of their super-sensitive sense of smell, some animals may be able to detect changes in a human’s blood sugar levels and will exhibit unusual behavior to tell their human that something is wrong.
Those with type 1 diabetes may benefit from owning a specially trained Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD) that can alert you of an upcoming spike or dip in blood sugar. These specialized pups are able to sense smells undectable to the human nose and warn their owners about potentially dangerous blood sugar changes. Diabetic Alert Dogs can be particularly helpful to parents of a child with type 1 as they can monitor the child’s blood sugar levels overnight. A dog’s sense of smell is leaps and bounds ahead of any other scent-detecting technology, and while a trained alert dog can be expensive and difficult to obtain, the peace of mind they provide can make them well worth the investment.
7. And One Reason NOT To Get A Pet
Do you hate animals? Is it a chore for you to pretend the pictures of your friend’s new cat are the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? A pet could potentially add stress to your life if you don’t enjoy them or if you do not have the time and resources to care for one properly. In a study on the influence of pet ownership on heart health, Dr. Glenn N. Levine notes, “the primary purpose of pet adoption or rescue should be to provide the pet a loving home and to derive enjoyment from the pet.” Your motivation for adding a pet to your life should always be because you want a pet and are ready to care for it.
Adopting a pet is a long-term decision that can have long-term benefits. For those dealing with diabetes, a pet can be a faithful friend that can help you achieve better health both physically and emotionally.
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.