Furry Friends

Pets help women cope with HIV/AIDS.

A spoonful of medicine goes down a lot easier with a dog or cat around. Having pets is helpful for women living with HIV/AIDS, according to a new study from the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University.

The finding could apply to women managing other chronic illnesses, says Allison R. Webel, nursing researcher and lead author of the article, which appears in the journal Women's Health Issues.

Webel set out specifically to better understand how women manage HIV/AIDS-how they keep track of their medications, follow doctors' orders and live healthy lifestyles.

Much information is available on how work and family impact how women manage chronic conditions, but the impact of pet ownership was an important surprise, Webel says.

"Pets—primarily dogs—gave these women a sense of support and pleasure," she says.

The study included 12 focus groups with 48 women. Pet owners weighed in on the effects their furry friends have on their lives. "She's going to be right there when I'm hurting," said a cat owner. Another participant 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."

The human-animal bond in healing and therapy is being recognized in the medical community, Webel says, as more animals are visiting people with dementia in nursing homes or children facing long hospital stays.