We empathize with dogs far more than we do with most humans, and it’s not difficult to see why. Known for being incredibly effective mood boosters, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that these eminently loveable floof packages have the potential to revolutionize how we deal with stress, depression, and anxiety.
A new study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, reveals that owning a dog can be hugely advantageous for patients with HIV too. It shows that people with dogs have a 300 percent lower chance of being in a depressive state than those without dogs.
The team, led by Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, points out that this is even better than it sounds.
Preventing people with a currently incurable viral disease falling into a deeply problematic psychological state of mind is clearly a good thing, but there’s a correlation between mood and the progression of HIV too. This generally applies to many medical afflictions: those maintaining high spirits seem more likely to prevail.
In this sense, depression often leads to HIV patients responding less favorably to important antiretroviral therapy treatments; the opposite is true for those in better frames of mind. It’s safe to say, then, that dogs are lifesavers in more ways than one.
The study involved the recruitment of 199 patients – a relatively small number – via social media. All were over the age of 18 and had a self-reported HIV diagnosis. Most were homosexual white men, which admittedly doesn’t mirror the current epidemiology of HIV; today, younger people from a variety of ethnic minorities are increasingly contracting the virus.
Some had pets, some did not – and some bought dogs after being diagnosed as HIV positive. Interestingly, most people who owned a dog after diagnosis bought it as a household pet, rather than being given it as part of therapy.
If this study’s results are validated, then it suggests that dogs as post-diagnosis therapy should be given far more consideration.
It’s not a perfect study, but this research gives a rather wonderful insight into the benefits of owning a dog. The stigma of an HIV diagnosis, despite remarkable advances in treatment, is still very real – someone with the disease is twice as likely to be depressed as those without it.
“That stigma can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, or depression,” coordinating study author Robert Garofalo, of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at the Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, told MD Magazine.
“While doctors cannot readily write a prescription for a dog for their patients, this study suggests that dog ownership… could be beneficial to patients who are isolated or depressed as a result of their HIV infection.”