There’s a reason why dogs are dubbed man’s best friend. Dogs, cats, and other pets make wonderful companions and provide many emotional and physical benefits. Some of the health benefits of owning a pet may surprise you. Let’s have a look at some of the ways you may not even be aware that your furry companion enhances your life.

Decrease Stress

Numerous studies show how pets help us cope with stressful situations. Have you ever noticed how animals seem to have an innate ability to detect when we are sad or stressed? So many pet owners describe how their compassionate pooch knows just when a therapeutic cuddle is in order. And this doesn’t just bring comfort on a surface level. Studies show that interaction with animals can actually decrease cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and also increase oxytocin levels (the happy hormone).

Combat Loneliness and Depression

Any pet owner will tell you that nothing is quite as comforting than cuddling up with a furry friend. In fact, one study found that owning a pet significantly reduced college students’ risk of becoming depressed or lonely. Another interesting study noted that petting various animals—from rabbits to turtles—decreased subjects’ anxiety.

Bolster Our Self Esteem

For many people, owning a pet helps foster a sense of purpose and validation. This is especially true with the elderly and people who may be confined to their homes more. Dogs and cats provide unconditional love that helps improve security and self esteem. Knowing that someone is always happy to see you no matter what can go a long way to improving self image.

Encourage Physical Activity

Rain or shine, hot or cold, your dog never wants to miss out on her exercise regimen. The responsibility of owning a pet causes most people to get outside more. One study showed that people who included pets in their exercise routine were more likely to stick to their weight loss programs. On average, dog owners engage in up to 60% more physical activity than those without dogs.

Improve Heart Health

Not only do pets have the endearing ability to melt your heart, they may help keep your ticker in tip-top shape. Studies show that pet ownership is associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk factors, as well as increased survival in individuals with established cardiovascular disease. In fact, pet owners typically have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.

Even if you don’t have the space or time for a dog or a cat, you can reap this benefit of pet ownership. For some people, fish are the ultimate pets. They don’t need to be walked or played with, and this study shows that just watching them swim can make you healthier.

Ease Pain

There’s a reason service dogs are frequent hospital guests. They provide comfort and distraction from physical pain, but even more importantly, they help reduce anxiety and stress, which can contribute to pain perception. When researchers observed patients recovering from surgery, they found that those who received animal-assisted therapy requested less pain medication.

Improve Immunity and Reduce Allergies

Pets introduce another interesting health benefit in our homes that may actually improve immune system function and decrease the occurrence of allergies. Studies show that children who live with furry pets in infancy develop a more diverse microbiome. This directly correlates to a reduced risk of allergic disease and overall better immune system function. Researchers believe that this could be because pets expose children to different kinds of bacteria and dirt at an early age.

Pets Make You More Attractive

One sure fire way to meet new people is to take your picture perfect pooch for a walk in the park. A pet provides an instant ice breaker and an easy conversation starter. Not only that, but most people agree that pet owners exhibit more compassion and empathy. Owning a pet also encourages and shows responsibility and commitment, two qualities would-be partners commonly seek. In fact, a survey of single men and women shows that they both view pet owners as more attractive.

Improve Sleep Quality

Okay, so if you have a 200 pound Great Dane or 14 cats, this may not hold true for you. But according to researchers from the Mayo Clinic, people who sleep with their dogs in their bedroom experience more sound, restful sleep.

Improve Longevity

With all the emotional and physical health benefits of owning a pet, it’s no surprise that pet owners also live longer. According to a study of more than 3.4 million people, pet owners have up to a 33% reduced risk of death compared to people without furry companions.

Treat your pets right and give them the benefits of pure, therapeutic essential oils. Learn all the dos and don’ts of using essential oils with pets here.