Pet ownership helps women living with HIV/AIDS

Jan 23 2012 - 3:22pm
Women living with HIV/AIDS stay on track with their health when they own a pet.

Pets have such a positive impact on our lives that they can even help us cope with chronic illness. Case Western University researchers found owning a pet helps women living with HIV and AIDS. Furry feline or canine friends provide support and pleasure that helps women stay on track with taking medications and living healthier lifestyles.

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According to study author, Allison R. Webel RN, PhD, instructor of nursing, "Pets can be a wonderful support for patients living with chronic illness”, though she admits pet ownership may not be for everyone.

Pets play a central role in helping women living with HIV and AIDS organize their days, in findings that Webel says was somewhat of a surprise.

She suggests patients with chronic illnesses should be assessed by clinicians to see if they would like the opportunity to interact with a pet, whether it’s their own or someone else's.

Webel discovered just how valuable pets can be to women when she asked 12 focus groups that included 48 women how they stayed healthy.

“Pets—primarily dogs—gave these women a sense of support and pleasure,” Webel said. One owner 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. A cat owner shared, “She’s going to be right there when I’m hurting.”

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The study also found women diagnosed with HIV manage better when they are socially engaged in advocating for others who may be harming themselves by following unhealthy behaviors. Other social roles that help women stay on track toward managing their health included being a mother or grandparent, personal faith and employee.

The stigma of being diagnosed with HIV prevented women from revealing their illness and seeking the support from others.

Webel says more and more pets visit nursing homes and spend time with hospitalized children, highlighting their emerging roles as therapists and healers.

The study focused on how pets help women living with HIV and AIDS, but Webel says owning a dog or cat could also help patients living with other chronic illnesses. The finding shows the love of a dog or cat helps women living with HIV/AIDS stay focused and healthier, as well as providing companionship.

Women's Health Issues
"The Relationship Between Social Roles and Self-Management Behavior in Women Living with HIV/AIDS"
Allison R. Webel, PhD, RN
January 2, 2012

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