When it comes to Type 1 diabetes, teens and tweens are some of the hardest patients to treat. They feel like they are old enough to manage their care themselves, but they can run into trouble quickly if they don't stay on schedule with glucose checks and insulin injections. But a new study has found that when kids combine diabetes management with pet care they do a better job staying on track.

Dr. Olga T. Gupta, an assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, had a theory that teaching kids with Type 1 diabetes to combine caring for a pet with caring for themselves would help them do a better job of managing their condition. So she recruited 29 patients between the ages of 10 and 17 with Type 1 diabetes to help her test her idea.

Sixteen of the kids were give a fishbowl, a $5 gift card to buy a fish, and instructions to feed the fish in the morning and at night. They were also asked to check their blood glucose levels at the same time they fed the fish. Once a week, they were to clean out the fishbowl and review their weekly glucose numbers with their parents.

The remaining 13 kids didn't a get a fish, but they were promised one at the end of the study.

After three months, the researchers found that kids who took care of the fish during the study period had better glucose management, which was indicated by significantly improved hemoglobin A1C levels. According to the study, which was published in Diabetes Educator, teens and tweens in that age group tend to see spikes in A1C values over time, so a management plan that decreased those numbers — even slightly — is a big success.

"Teenagers are one of the most difficult patient populations to treat, mainly because of the many psychosocial factors associated with that stage of life," said Gupta in a press release. "We learned that instructing families to associate regular pet fish care with the child's standard diabetes care significantly improved their hemoglobin A1C levels," she added.

Caring for a pet helps kids manage diabetes
Want to teach kids to remember to check their glucose levels? Combine the task with feeding a fish.