MONDAY, Jan. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Having a pet helps women with HIV/AIDS cope with their condition and may also help those with other chronic diseases, a new study says.
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Researchers conducted 12 focus groups with 48 women with HIV/AIDS to find out how they stay healthy. The women, whose average age was 42, said that five social roles helped them manage their illness.
These roles included being: a pet owner; a mother/grandmother; faith believer; an advocate and an employee.
The study also found that being stigmatized had a negative impact because it prevented women from revealing their illness and seeking out appropriate supports, the Case Western Reserve University researchers said.
The finding about the benefits of being a pet owner was a surprise, said study author and nursing instructor Allison Webel.
"Pets -- primarily dogs -- gave these women a sense of support and pleasure," Webel said in a university news release.
Speaking about their pets, one cat owner said, "She's going to be right there when I'm hurting," while a dog 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."
Webel noted that the human and animal bond in healing and therapy is receiving increasing recognition and more animals are visiting nursing homes to connect to people with dementia, or visiting children going through long hospital stays.
The study appears online in the January-February issue of Women's Health Issues.
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SOURCE: Case Western Reserve University, news release, Jan. 23, 2012