Pets have helped people weather both the HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics, a survey of long-term HIV/AIDS survivors shows.
"The underlying question in our minds has always been: What role do pets play for people who are so isolated and suffering so much stigma?" said study leader Lynette Hart, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of California, Davis.
She and her colleagues surveyed close to 150 people across the United States who got the HIV/AIDS virus before 1996. Most were men.
Respondents said they felt far more grief, isolation and stigma during the AIDS pandemic than during the COVID pandemic.
And older men were able to cope better during COVID, especially if they had a dog, according to findings recently published in the journal Animals.
"I don't think dogs are magically making them better, but dogs are making a difference," Hart said in a university news release. "The older HIV/AIDS survivors may also have more coping strategies, and dogs are part of that. They take their dogs on walks and meet people in their neighborhood and remain more socially connected."
While dog owners said they felt less isolated during both pandemics, cat owners felt especially alone, isolated and unsupported even though all said their cat comforted them, the study found.
That suggests that supportive pet care service organizations that help keep people with special needs and their pets together might put a special focus on supporting cat owners, Hart said.
Study co-author Dr. Ken Gorczyca, founding veterinarian for Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS), said it's important to know that long-term survivors of AIDS are resilient.
"To get to that point, they had to be. A lot of them would say that animals were a big part of that," Gorczyca said in the release.
"Having an animal companion gave many a sense of purpose in life, to take care of them, especially at a time in the 1980s and '90s when AIDS was so bad and there was virtually no support from government or many times from your family," he noted.
Facing a second pandemic triggered post-traumatic stress in many long-term HIV/AIDS survivors, Gorczyca said, adding that the benefits of pets are well-documented, and many animal support agencies kept providing services during the COVID pandemic.
There's more on the health benefits of pets at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
SOURCE: University of California, Davis, news release, June 15, 2022