Pet Smarts: 8 Reasons Having a Dog or Cat Is Good for Your Health

By Emily G.W. Chau

They can make you happy, keep you fit, even lower your blood pressure. Find out why owning a dog or a cat is a prescription for good health.

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Photo by Mary Heath Swanson

They Help Your Heart

Simply petting a dog or a cat can lower your blood pressure. Stroking a snake works, too, one study found -- but probably only among people who own snakes! "Holding a pet triggers a relaxation response," explains Alan Beck, ScD, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond, at Purdue University. "It helps you stay focused on the present, as opposed to dwelling on the past or worrying about the future." And cuddling with furry friends can give you a chemical boost by releasing the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. Pet owners also tend to have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, according to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

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