Young people with type 1 diabetes who actively help care for a family pet are more likely to have well-controlled blood glucose levels, research suggests.
This new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, reports that some attributes which are effective in self-managing type 1 diabetes, such as adaptability and family cohesio, are similar to those required for taking care of a household pet.
The study team recruited 223 children and adolescents between the ages of nine and 19, and reviewed their HbA1c. They also asked them questions about the presence of a pet in their homen, and how involved they were with its care.
HbA1c target values were based on the guidelines published in 2005 by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). These recommend that children aged between six and 12 years keep their HbA1c at 8% (64 mmol/mol) or less; and adolescents and young adults between 13 and 19 years keep their HbA1c at 7.5% (53 mmol/mol) or less.
The researchers distinguished between children who loved their pet but were not involved in their care, and the children who were actively involved in looking after a pet.
The children who actively cared for at least one household pet were 2.5 times more likely to have good control of their blood glucose levels compared to children who didn’t care for a pet.
The study team hypothesised that household routines and feelings of responsibility are among the attributes that can be transferred from pet care to type 1 diabetes management. Controlling blood sugar levels can be difficult for most children with type 1 diabetes, especially during puberty, but caring for a pet teaches children skills which could be used to maintain glycemic control.
The researchers pointed out that their study does not show causality between pet care and improved blood glucose levels, but believe their findings could help identify attributes that could help young people manage type 1 diabetes.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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