9 Ways Pets Make You Smarter, Stronger, and More Resistant to Stress

As if you needed another reason to love your furry friend, your pet could give you these health-boosting benefits.

Pets help you brush off rejection

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Thinking of your pet as part of the family could help you get over social rejection. A study in the journal Anthrozoös asked volunteers to think about a past experience when they’d felt rejected, then to name a photo of a cat, dog, person, or toy. When asked about their feelings again, those who named an animal or a toy with humanlike qualities felt less negatively than those who’d given names to people. The researchers say people inclined to treat animals or objects like people (like when you talk to your pet) are also more prone to having traits like empathy and unconventional thinking to guard them against that negativity. Here are 13 astounding secrets your dog knows about you.

Pets make you less lonely

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Loneliness has been associated with heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other negative outcomes, but older adults who owned pets were 36 percent less likely to say they were lonely than those who didn’t have a furry friend, according to a study published in Aging & Mental Health. Especially among those who live alone, a pet could offer social interaction when other people aren’t around, the authors report. Here are 17 ways to connect with others and feel less lonely.

Pets provide major buffer against stress

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A small Swedish study found that female volunteers had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol 15 to 30 minutes after petting a pooch. Having your own dog could give you even more benefits. Participants who owned dogs had increased levels of the happy hormone oxytocin between one and five minutes later, and their heart rates were lower up to an hour later—but those without canines of their own didn’t get those same benefits. Here are 50 secrets your pet won't tell you.

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Pets protect your heart

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Owning a cat could lower your risk of dying from heart disease, a study in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology reports. The researchers found that those who said they’d owned a cat at some point in their lives had a lower risk of dying of a heart attack during the 20-year study than those who’d never owned one. Cats might help relax people during stress, or cat owners might tend to have traits that make them less at-risk, the study authors say. Check out these ways heart doctors protect their own hearts.

Pets help keep your brain sharp

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Research published in Anthrozoös found that older homebound adults who owned cats or dogs had better executive function (the skills you need to pay attention, remember details, and use past experience to decide how to act) than those who didn’t own a pet.

Pets encourage you to get more exercise

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Of course your pup needs walks, but that stroll is good for your health too—and dog owners don’t just use those jaunts to replace the exercise they’d do otherwise. A Michigan State University study found that people who own dogs exercise about half an hour more per week than those who don’t live with a dog. Here are ways to make your daily walk even healthier.

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Pets ease your pain

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The benefits of having a dog don't stop with walking.  Spending time with your pet might help keep you off pain meds. A study in Anthrozoös found that adults who spent five to 15 minutes with a dog after joint replacement surgery used less pain medication than those who didn’t have animal-assisted therapy.

Pets make your kid less likely to have allergies

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Babies with pets in the house are less likely to develop allergies later in life, according to a study in Clinical & Experimental Allergy. The study found that 18-year-olds who’d had a cat or dog in the family when they were less than a year old were about half as likely to be allergic to that animal as those who didn’t have an animal in the house. But early-life exposure is key—adopting a pet later as an adult won’t help your immune system in the same way. Don't miss these natural allergy remedies.

Pets might help your child take better care of her blood sugar

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Nine- to 19-year-olds who help take care of a pet are better at managing type 1 diabetes than those who aren’t responsible for a pet, according to a small study in the journal PLoS ONE. Kids who actively cared for a pet—not just saying they loved the family’s cat or dog—were 2.5 times more likely to keep up healthy blood sugar levels, the study found. The authors say kids who are in charge of pets might feel more responsible and be more used to routines.

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