How pets improve our health

By Sandee LaMotte, CNN

Published 5:10 AM ET, Tue October 8, 2019
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Pets bring joy to our lives (yes, dog lovers -- even cats). Need more proof than the gleeful smile on this child's face? A study from Indiana University found simply watching cat videos boosted energy and healthy positive emotions and decreased negative feelings. Getty Images
Man's best friend is well known for devotion and loyalty, but did you know that dogs can also extend our lifespans? A new meta-analysis of research on nearly 4 million people found dog owners were 24% less likely to die for any reason. Getty Images
It's likely that the health benefits of dog ownership have to do with the amount of exercise needed to keep the furry friends healthy -- studies show dog owners can get 30 minutes more exercise a day than people who don't own dogs. Just who is rescuing whom here? Getty Images
Don't worry, cat lovers. A 2009 study found a lower risk of death by heart attack and overall cardiovascular disease among cat owners, even if they no longer lived with their fluffy friend. Getty Images
The act of petting your cat releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, also called the "cuddle chemical." The fact that your cat is purring while you're doing this is an additional stress reducer. Getty Images
It's not just cats and dogs. Studies find health benefits for owners of all kinds of pets, including birds, hamsters, gerbils, fish, snakes ... and even bugs. One study found nursing home residents who cared for cockroaches were less depressed after eight weeks than those who received only health advice. Getty Images
The act of caring for another creature is part of the health benefit of pet ownership. A 2015 study asked teenagers with Type 1 diabetes to feed and check water levels of fish twice a day. By the end of three months, the teens were better at managing their diabetes. Getty Images
Pets bring people together, providing opportunities to socialize for those who may be isolated or lonely. Social connections are key to a longer, happier life. Getty Images
Pets offer the opportunity for different generations to connect, easing the way toward deeper communications, fostering healthy bonding and reducing loneliness. Getty Images
Pets foster connections that can continue as the child grows, such as through the use of social media. Some pets even have their own Facebook pages. Getty Images
Exposing a child to animals during the first six months of life is linked to a reduced chance of asthma and allergies later in life. However, if an existing family member is allergic, having pets in the home can do more harm than good. Getty Images
Children who grow up around farm animals, dogs or cats typically have stronger immune systems and a reduced risk of developing eczema. Getty Images
Baby animals teach children about the miracles of birth, and the responsibilities of caring for a tiny creature. The demise of a pet is also the first death experience for most children, providing a powerful teaching moment about love and loss. Getty Images
Providing pet therapy to children undergoing cancer is a common practice. Parents report children are happier, more social and more compliant with treatment after a visit with a furry friend. Getty Images
Reducing anxiety is a key benefit of therapy animals. Slinky the ferret came to University of New England's Portland campus with other small furry creatures to help relieve the stress of midterm exams for students. Getty Images
Horse therapy is a proven method of therapy for children with autism, physical disabilities and mental and behavioral problems. Getty Images