An animal a day

The health benefits of having a pet

The Christmas season is considered by many to be the happiest time of the year. For some, however, it can be rather sad—especially if one is ill or lonely. Thankfully, having a fluffy, friendly cat or dog to snuggle with can help make everyone’s holidays cheerier—and healthier. lists five health pluses of having a pet:

Get regular exercise (and avoid obesity): Dogs need to go on regular walks, which means you get to, too. A study by the National Institute of Health of more than 2,000 adults found that dog owners who walk their pets regularly are less likely to be obese than dog owners who have someone else walk Fido or Fifi.

Improve heart health: Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health found that pet owners have decreased blood pressure, and levels of cholesterol and triglyceride, which can lower heart-attack risk.

Be less prone to allergies: Having house pets has been shown to reduce a child’s likelihood of developing related allergies by as much as 33 percent, according to studies done by University of Wisconsin-Madison pediatrician James E. Gern.

Combat loneliness and depression: Pets offer companionship, a sense of purpose—and unconditional love.

Expand your social circle: Along the same lines, having a pet can get you out and about to meet others—at such places as the local dog park, pet-parenting classes and outdoor cafés.