New research indicates that having pets like dog or cat help women with HIV/AIDS manage their chronic illness and stay healthy.
The human and animal bond in healing and therapy is being recognized in a study from the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University.
"We think this finding about pets can apply to women managing other chronic illnesses," said Allison R. Webel, instructor of nursing and lead author of the article
Webel set out to better understand how women manage their HIV/AIDS and stay on track to take their medications, follow doctors' orders and live healthy lifestyles.
She conducted 12 focus groups with 48 women to find out what they did to stay healthy. The women had an average age of 42, about 90 percent had children, and more than half were single.
During the focus groups, six predominant social roles emerged that helped and hindered these women in managing their illness: pet owner, mother/grandmother, faith believer, advocate, stigmatized patient, and employee.
All roles had a positive impact except stigmatized patient, which prevented women from revealing their illness and seeking out appropriate supports.
"Much information is available about the impact of work and family roles, but little is known about other social roles that women assume," Webel said.
Being a pet owner was an important surprise, added Webel, who collaborated with co-author Patricia Higgins, a professor of nursing at Case Western Reserve University.
"Pets-primarily dogs-gave these women a sense of support and pleasure," Webel said.
When discussing the effect their pets have on their lives, the women weighed in.
"She's going to be right there when I'm hurting," a cat owner said.
Another said: "Dogs know when you're in a bad mood...she knows that I'm sick, and everywhere I go, she goes. She wants to protect me."
While roles as mothers and workers are well documented, "less-defined social roles also have a positive impact on self-management of their chronic illness," Webel said.
The finding appeared in the online journal Women's Health Issues.