Researchers have long known that pets help relieve social isolation and depression.
People in declining health, who may lack energy and have difficulty leaving the house, often can't enjoy the simple pleasures of dog ownership, such as walks in the park.
In a survey of male pet owners with AIDS, researchers found that cats despite their reputation as being more aloof than dogs actually provided more comfort and companionship to their owners than canines.
Cats, which more commonly live indoors, made their owners feel needed and provided a sense of stability beyond what friends and family could offer, according to researchers at the University of California at Davis.
"Men in declining health may find it stressful to be with a dog, who may be excitedly requesting walks once or twice a day," said Lynette A. Hart, an animal behaviorist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
"The men were no longer working, not coming home from work and receiving the joyous greeting from a dog. A cat that would just lie on the bed and not expect very much could lead to a more compatible relationship for these men."
Hart's conclusions were based on responses of 60 men with AIDS who were clients of Pets Are Wonderful Support, a San Francisco organization.