What does caring for a fish have to do with managing type 1 diabetes?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Caring for Betta fish and type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes can be difficult to control, especially for active teens. Results of a new study show taking care of pets, in this case a fish, can help teenagers manage diabetes that ultimately means fewer complications from the disease.

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Senior author Olga Gupta, assistant professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center investigated how caring for a fish helped 28 teens with type 1 diabetes manage their blood sugars.

"We learned that instructing families to associate regular pet fish care with the child's standard diabetes care significantly improved their hemoglobin A1C levels."

How caring for fish makes kids with diabetes healthier

The study, published in The Diabetes Educator followed 28 adolescents age ten to 17 who were given a Betta fish, a bowl and instructions on how to care for the fish. They were asked to keep their pet in the bedroom when possible.

The goal was to have the study participants check their blood sugar twice a day - when feeding their pet fish. Once a week, when they changed one-fourth of the water in the fish bowl, the adolescents' were asked to review their blood sugar log and review it with a care giver.

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Jeanette Claxton, mother of 12-year-old Raymon Miles, Jr. who took part in the study shared in a media release: "Throughout the entire experience we owned two fish that became part of our family. The first fish was named Bob, and Raymon would feed him, read to him, and even watch TV with him," said Claxton. "He didn't even realize that he was talking about his diabetes more and taking his blood sugar more often."

Raymon's mother said if owning a pet meant better management of her child's diabetes, then she was "all for it" and would recommend it to other parents.

Owning a pet seems to help children "own" diabetes. "When you own it, diabetes doesn't own you," Claxton said.

The study result showed caring for their pet helped children in the study lower their A1C level by 0.5 percent, compared to the control group whose A1C level dropped 0.8 percent.

Investigators for the study plan more research to understand more about how caring for a pet helped with type 1 diabetes management. Factors that may play a role might include mood, the type of pet owned, parental involvement or just getting into a conscientious routine.

Related:

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Thirty year old blood pressure pill could be first "cure" for type 1 diabetes
FDA approves trial for type 1 diabetes vaccine

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