Pet care, type 1 diabetes and HbA1c

Friday, 27 March 2020

Responsibility for a pet has been found to help adolescents achieve healthier blood glucose levels, a US study has found.

Living with type 1 diabetes is a constant challenge. The peak age group of diagnosis in 2017 was 10–19 years according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. The National Diabetes Services Scheme Data report for September 2019 states almost 8,000 people with type 1 diabetes were aged 15 years or under as of December 2019.

Adolescence is a vulnerable stage of life to manage living with diabetes. Adolescence usually comes with an increase in insulin resistance and therefore an increase in insulin requirements. It can be a time of rebellion, risk taking, poor self-esteem and social pressure. All these factors may contribute to less than ideal management of diabetes.

Associating medication use with activities or events has been shown to improve use. The regular care of a pet involves repetitive, predictable activities such as feeding, walking, and grooming. These activities are usually enjoyable for the pet owner. A study carried out in the USA has linked blood glucose monitoring and caregiver communication with the structured care of a pet fish.

Lessons from a fighting fish

Twenty-eight adolescents aged 10 to 17 years, with an HbA1c greater than 8.5%, and their caregivers participated in the study.  Sixteen adolescents were given a fish tank and accessories and a gift card to buy a fish. Their instructions were to record their blood glucose levels morning and evening at the same time as feeding the fish. Once a week they were asked to replace one quarter of the tank’s water and immediately review their monitoring logs with their caregiver.

Before and after the study the adolescents’ HbA1c results were recorded. After three months the adolescents with the pet fish had a reduction in HbA1c of 0.5%. The reduction was greater in the younger group aged 10-13 years (1.5%). The other adolescents not given a fish showed an increase in HbA1c over the same period of 0.8%.

This is a very interesting approach to helping teens and their families cope with the struggles during this difficult time.

By Donna Itzstein Pharmacist CDE


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