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This gr.7 learner is helping diabetic dogs lower their need for insulin treatment

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Since the Rules’ pet dog Jesse (9) was diagnosed with diabetes in 2015, her energy levels had been low and she preferred to sleep her days away rather than to play. One afternoon, following a radio interview she had heard about the benefits that rooibos could offer diabetics, Zaria Rule, a grade 7 learner from Cornwall Hill College in Centurion, decided that she wanted to test rooibos tea on Jesse, and that this would make the perfect topic for her school science project.

Zaria fed Jesse and three other diabetic dogs – whose owners volunteered to participate in the project – one cup (250ml) of green rooibos, which was diluted with another three cups of tap water per day over a four-week period.  None of the dogs were forced to drink the preparation, but they all seemed to enjoy the taste and often their drinking bowls were refreshed twice a day.

Zaria specifically used green rooibos since previous studies found that it was the most effective extract in lowering raised blood glucose levels in diabetic rats.

“During the research period, Jesse and the other dogs continued with their diabetic medication as prescribed by the vet in order to assess the impact that the rooibos would have on the dogs,” explains Zaria. “After about four weeks of rooibos supplementation, Jesse responded so well that we were able to reduce her dose of insulin treatment down to 10 units twice a day, which was the lowest dose we’ve ever given her.”

Since then green rooibos has become a firm favourite of Jesse’s, and Zaria tries to give her a cup as often as she can. Zaria would love to continue her research over a longer period and with more dogs in order to reach more conclusive findings, but is limited by the costs and the availability of a blood test that can conclusively prove the effects of the rooibos tea.

Several studies by the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC), the Agricultural Research Council (ARC, Infruitec-Nietvoorbij, Stellenbosch) and the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, have all confirmed rooibos’ potential to delay and possibly prevent the onset and progression of type 2 diabetes (T2D) in diabetic rodents, so it’s no surprise that Jesse responded so well to the treatment.

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Zaria Rule and Jesse

Zaria Rule with Jesse, her nine year old pet dog

Zaria’s project also helped to create awareness among the community that diabetes also affects dogs and that the early detection of the condition can save and significantly improve the quality of their lives. The exact cause of diabetes is unknown, but the most common form of the condition in dogs is type 1 – insulin-dependent diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas is incapable of producing or secreting adequate levels of insulin.

Symptoms to look out for include a change in appetite, increased thirst and urination, weight-loss, lethargy, vomiting, a change in dog odour, ongoing urinary tract infections, cataract formation and chronic skin infections, among others.

Nireshni Chellan, Senior Scientist at the SAMRC who has been studying the effects of rooibos on diabetes for several years, cites aspalathin, a rare antioxidant found only in the rooibos plant, as one of the critical bioflavanoids that contributes to rooibos’ anti-diabetic properties.

“One of the greatest benefits of green rooibos is its high antioxidant potential, which improves heart and liver functioning. It also contains no caffeine or tannins,” says Chellan. Rooibos also contains cancer-fighting flavonoids such as quercetin and luteolin.”

In addition to rooibos’ anti-diabetic properties, it can also be used in a myriad of ways to improve the overall health and well-being of cats and dogs. It can be used to treat pet allergies, itching and dry skin, as well as digestive disorders.

All you need to do is brew the Rooibos tea for 3-5 minutes, let it cool and then either put it next to your pet’s water bowl or stir it into your pet’s meals. A rooibos bath could help to soothe common skin ailments that affect dogs, such as eczema. Rooibos is great for itchy and irritated paws, and can be used to treat eye infections as well. The actual teabags can also be placed on topical wounds to speed up the healing process.

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