A side from being cute and offering an endless supply of kisses and cuddles, dogs and cats can also be a strong factor in motivating people with HIV to take their meds. A recent study showed that pet-ownership increased adherence to medication regimens in HIV-positive women.
'Pets'primarily dogs'gave these women a sense of support and pleasure,' says lead researcher Allison Webel of Case Western Reserve University.
Other factors that helped boost drug adherence were anticipated, like being a parent or grandparent, or having strong religious beliefs. However, the animal factor was a bit of a surprise. It's possible that the pets make people happier, which makes them more apt to take care of themselves.
Many women involved in the study said having the unconditional love of a dog helped them cope with pain and side effects. One participant says her dog can sense when she's sick or in a bad mood and is able to adjust to her feelings.
Another woman cites her cat, Sunshine, as a source of unconditional love.
'She knows when I'm feeling bad, because she'll rub up all against me, look at me, touch her nose to my nose, and I know she knows that I'm feeling bad on the inside,' this study participant told researchers. 'I'll sing 'You Are My Sunshine' and that tail just gets going, and that makes me feel at peace.'
Medical professionals are recognizing more and more that the connection between people and their pets is good for humans' health. A 2008 Australian study showed that dog owners are 41% more likely than others to engage in moderate exercise. Pets are also known to help keep people's blood pressure in check, relieve anxiety, and ease feelings of loneliness.
In addition to HIV, Webel says, the results indicate that people with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes or cancer, may benefit from caring for a pet.