It's no secret that people rely on their pets for love, companionship, and a sense of security. After all, the iconic American family traditionally includes a mom and dad, 2.5 kids, and a pet of some kind. But as it turns out, the benefits of having a pet go far beyond camaraderie and protection; a four-legged friend can actually boost your health and, according to some researchers, lengthen your life by about seven years.

Pets' Positive Effects

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a pet can improve your general health by:

  • Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Increasing opportunities for exercise.
  • Helping to develop a sense of responsibility.
  • Giving people a sense of purpose.
  • Boosting perceived self-worth.

What's more, when people have to take care of another living thing, they are more likely to take better care of themselves.

Pets can also help relieve anxiety over medical problems, which is why they're often used in hospitals and rehabilitation centers as therapy animals. According to the nonprofit Delta Society, some benefits for people participating in animal-assisted activities and therapy include:

  • Improvement of motor skills
  • Enhanced attention skills
  • Reduced anxiety and loneliness
  • Willingness to be involved and interact with others
  • Increased exercise

Finding the Right Pet

When looking for a pet or working with animals, there are several considerations you should keep in mind. Pets can carry infections that may be transmitted to humans so be sure to wash your hands whenever petting or cleaning up after an animal. Animal dander can cause allergic reactions and trigger asthma. Though some breeds claim to be allergy-free, all cats and dogs produce dander. If you're allergic to pet dander or have asthma, ask your doctor which kind of animal is safe for you to own.

You also need to consider your lifestyle. For example, many big dogs need a large backyard to run around in, and some small dogs are not good with children. Be sure to talk with a representative at your local SPCA about the perfect pet for your home situation.