Allison R. Webel and Patricia Higgins of the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and colleagues found having pets was helpful for women living with HIV/AIDS and managing their chronic illness.
Webel tracked how women with an average age of 42 with HIV/AIDS stay on track to take their medications, follow doctors' orders and live healthy lifestyles. Ninety percent had children and more than half were single.
During the focus groups, six social roles of the women with HIV 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 support, Webel said.
Being a pet owner was an important surprise, Webel said.
"Pets -- primarily dogs -- gave these women a sense of support and pleasure," Webel said in a statement.
A cat owner said her kitty will be right there for her when she is hurting.
"Dogs know when you're in a bad mood ... she knows that I'm sick, and everywhere I go, she goes," a dog owner said.
The findings were published online in the journal Women's Health Issues.