May 02, 2016
2 min read

Pet care linked to glycemic control in youths with type 1 diabetes

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Children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes who have lower HbA1c levels are more likely to take responsible care of a household pet vs. children with poorer glycemic control, recent study findings show.

In a case-control study, Louise Maranda, PhD, assistant professor at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Olga T. Gupta, MD, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics and internal medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, analyzed data from 223 children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes (53.8% boys; mean age, 15 years) recruited from the pediatric diabetes clinic at University of Massachusetts Medical School. Participants who met target HbA1c levels as defined by the American Diabetes Association were considered cases (n = 34; aged 6-12 years, target HbA1c ≤ 8%; aged 13-19 years, target HbA1c ≤ 7.5%); all other participants were considered controls (n = 189). Participants completed a questionnaire regarding pet ownership (type, frequency and duration of care offered). They were classified as having no pet, a pet with which they had little interaction or high involvement with a pet. Within the high involvement group, a distinction was made between ownership of a dog and that of other animals. Participants also completed the self-management of type 1 diabetes assessment. Researchers controlled for age, race and duration of disease.

Louise Maranda

Within the cohort, 46.7% owned one pet; 53.3% owned two or more pets. Dogs were the most popular pet (60.6%), followed by cats (50.6%), rodents (8.3%), fish (7.2%), reptiles (7.2%), birds (6.7%) and amphibians (1.1%). Of the 110 participants classified as having a high level of involvement in family pet care, 76 (69.1%) reported their main pet was a dog.

In multivariable logistic models adjusting for duration of disease, age, socioeconomic status, collaboration with parents and care activities, researchers found a relationship between HbA1c control and active pet care (OR = 2.49; 95% CI, 1.08-5.75). A model involving pet care for dogs only yielded similar results (OR = 2.59; 95% CI, 1.14-5.87).

Olga Gupta

Olga T. Gupta

“The value of our work is at the behavioral level,” Maranda told Endocrine Today. “If children can learn to associate the daily chores of diabetes control to the actions required for the wellbeing of their pet, then the interest they have in their animal may transfer to the management of their disease. This means that parents may improve their child’s performance by coupling self-care activities such as glucose testing, calorie counting, and record keeping to pet-care activities such as feeding and grooming. The idea is to tap into the positive feelings children experience with their pet to improve their performance with the management of their diabetes.” – by Regina Schaffer

For more information:

Louise Maranda, PhD, can be reached at the Department of Quantitative Health Sciences, AS6.1063, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 55 Lake avenue North Worcester, MA 01655; email:

 Disclosure: The WALTHAM Center for Pet Nutrition, a division of Mars Inc., contributed to the NIH budget allocated to the human/animal bond initiative that funded this study. The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.