By Kelly Goede

Who doesn’t love puppy kisses, playing fetch and having a warm little fur baby snuggled up next to you? But, did you know that adding a dog to your life also has a plethora of additional physical, social and emotional advantages? Owning a pet is proven to be beneficial to your health, and it is completely backed up by science!

Researchers have found that pet ownership has some pretty remarkable benefits. “Many studies have proven the physical benefits of owning pets, ranging from preventing asthmas in children to lowering blood pressure in adults,” said Dr. Wendy Mandese, clinical assistant professor of primary care and dentistry at the University of Florida Veterinary School. “As a veterinarian, I also regularly witness the emotional benefits of pet ownership. Most pets are considered members of the family and that emotional bond becomes very important.” In fact, a study in the journal Science showed that when a dog owner stares into the eyes of his or her dog, oxytocin (one of our “feelgood” chemicals) levels are boosted in both parties. Love, companionship and attachment to an animal provide us with stability and growth psychologically, and the brain chemistry of both owner and pet improves when the two are connected emotionally. Takefumi Kikusui, the lead author of the study, found that “humandog interactions elicit the same type of oxytocin positive feedback loop as seen between mothers and their infants.”

That same fur baby who makes you feel happier will also need regular exercise, which —you guessed it —means you’ll be getting more exercise, too! A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Health revealed that dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes per week, while non-dog owners walked an average of 168 minutes a week. Those minutes add up to overall better health, as long as you are willing to pound the pavement with Fido. Regularly walking your dog leads to interactions with neighbors and other dog owners, fostering conversation and social connection.

And if your fur baby doesn’t have fur (because he is a bird, a fish or a reptile) you still stand to reap substantial benefits, as owning any type of pet fosters empathy and encourages social interaction with other pet owners. Birds offer companionship, fish (and the water in their tanks) offer problem solving skills, rodents provide entertainment and sometimes a cuddle, and reptiles provide a pet experience minus allergens and noise. A study out of Cambridge University showed people who owned a pet were less likely to suffer from headaches, colds and hay fever.

Study after study extols the virtues of pet ownership, empirically proving that caring for our animals penetrates into our very hearts and brains, making us healthier and happier. Hospitals and nursing homes, wounded veterans and people with blindness and PTSD are all including animals in their therapies and seeing lives changed for the better. Dogs especially are used to assist people with a range of disorders and disabilities, including seizure disorders, diabetes and hearing impairments. Cats have also joined their canine friends as therapy animals, providing emotional support and lowering blood pressure in hospitals, nursing homes and even prisons. No matter what kind of pet you choose to include in your life, inviting one in is sure to boost your overall health and happiness.