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It turns out that the benefits of owning a pet include more than just adorable cuddles and trips to the dog park. Owning a pet can also improve your overall health and wellness.

On a psychological level, pets are shown to decrease levels of depression and anxiety. And for overall health, owning a pet can decrease your blood pressure, increase your immune system, make you less likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke, and more. 

1. Get a Pet & Get Rid of Stress

A study in 2002 by the State University of New York at Buffalo found that having your pet around during difficult tasks helped to decrease stress. They found that having pets around helped participants stay calm and focused on the task at hand and were even more beneficial than having a close friend or family member nearby. 

Promises Treatment Centers, which helps recovering drug addicts, allows pets into their rehab facilities. The CEO of the facility believes that having your pet around makes the recovery process less stressful, making drug addicts less likely to reach for unhealthy or dangerous substances as a way to decompress. 

So, the next time you’re going through a tough time at home or work, try taking a breather and hang out with your pets. 

2. Own a Pet & Lower Your Blood Pressure

A study by the CDC suggests that having a dog can lower blood pressure, especially for high-risk hypertensive patients. High blood pressure is often caused by stress and when life throws you stressful curveballs, having a dog (or cat) that loves you unconditionally can help you feel at ease. It’s also thought that owning a pet gives you more opportunities to go outside and exercise, which strengthens your heart and lowers your blood pressure that way.

3. Raise a Pet and Lower Your Cholesterol 

The CDC suggests that another healthy component of owning a pet is lowering your cholesterol. Research has found that people who own pets (particularly men) have lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides than those without pets. Who needs Cheerios, when you can get a dog! Like lower blood pressure, it’s not known if the pet’s presence is specifically lowering cholesterol, or if it’s caused by the lifestyle that comes with owning a pet. 

4. A Happy Pet Can Boost Your Mood

There’s nothing quite like being greeted by a happy dog after a long day, which is why some think that the majority of the overall physical health benefits of owning a pet might be a product of their mental health benefits.

Pets are also often used in various forms of cognitive therapy. For instance, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, they give dogs to soldiers as a way to help with post-traumatic stress disorder. Having a pet gives you something to look after, a purpose to get up in the morning, and someone that will love you unconditionally.

5. Pets Help You Socialize

This is geared more towards dog owners, unless you frequent cat cafes. Owning a dog can help you socialize since they increase the likelihood that you’ll go out and do things. For instance, something as simple as taking your dog for a walk around the neighborhood could cause you to bump into neighbors with familiar faces, who are probably excited to see your cute pupper out and about. Pets can also be conversation starters, giving people a reason to talk to you. Not to mention going to the dog park, as that is a community experience where you’re able to interact with other dog lovers.

6. Prevent Strokes by Stroking a Cat

According to a study by the American Stroke Association, owning a cat makes you 30% less likely to develop a stroke. In the study, 4,435 participants were followed and after taking account of factors such as smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure, half of the participants that owned cats were less likely to develop strokes. As we mentioned earlier, owning a pet reduces stress and anxiety, which in turn, protects your heart and lowers your blood pressure. It is also believed that petting a cat reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, which lowers your heart rate and blood pressure.