Pet care improves youths' diabetes management

Pediatric diabetes researchers at UT Southwestern have found that incorporating routine pet care into children's diabetes self-care plans can significantly lower their blood glucose levels.

Sound fishy?

The study followed the pet care and diabetes management tasks of 28 participants, ages 10 to 17, with Type 1 diabetes mellitus, the leading cause of diabetes in children of all ages. With diabetes, the body fails to produce insulin needed to covert sugar and starches into energy.

Study participants were provided a fish (specifically, a Betta splendens), a fish bowl, instruction for caring for the fish, and a recommendation to set up the fish bowl in their bedroom, if possible. They were instructed to feed their fish in the morning and in the evening, checking their own blood glucose level each time. Then they were asked to change one-quarter of the water in the bowl once a week and review their own blood glucose logs with a caregiver.

The reinforced routine worked, especially among the younger participants. After three months, the participants' blood glucose levels had decreased, while the levels of those in a controlled group had not.

"The decrease was greater in those ages 10 to 13," notes UT Southwestern’s Olga Gupta, M.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine, who directed the study. "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."

Further studies are planned.