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Can Having Pets Help Women Living With HIV/AIDS Cope?

January 31, 2012

A recent study found that women living with HIV/AIDS may find therapeutic benefits from owning pets.

The study of 48 women was conducted by Drs. Allison Webel and Patricia Higgins of the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Their findings were published in the January 2012 issue of Women's Health Issues.

A Case Western Reserve news release announced that the purpose of this study was to better understand how women manage their disease day to day, adhere to their medications, and take care of their overall health. One way to do that was to see how certain roles could shape people's behaviors:

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.

What they discovered about pet owners somewhat surprised them: Having a pet helped the women cope better.

"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."

Webel speculates these findings may be applicable for women living with other chronic diseases, too.

View the video, "Furry Friends with Benefits: Staying Healthy With Pets":

Copyright © 2012 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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