Am I a healthier person because my dog Kelly is in my life? Actually, yes! I’ve lost 40 pounds, I’m off my blood pressure medication, and my cholesterol is lower too—in part due to owning a dog. Cats, dogs and other pets can all help. Here are five health benefits you could enjoy:

1. Lower Blood Pressure You love your pet with all your heart. Did you also know that owning a pet could be beneficial to your heart? According to studies by the American Heart Association, pet owners are more likely to have lower blood pressures than non-pet owners. 2. Fewer Allergies Sure, many people have allergies to pet fur and dander. But, research conducted by James Gern at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has shown that children who grow up in a home with pets have a lower instance of allergies than those who don’t. So, it’s possible that owning a pet could actually help prevent your child from developing allergies. 3. Less Stress and Depression Owning a pet can be beneficial for our mental health too. The American Veterinary Medical Association cited studies that indicated people who own pets remain calmer in stressful situations. Caregivers also observe that pets can soothe Alzheimers patients, and seniors with pets are less likely to report depression as a symptom than those without pets. Of course, a pet misbehaving pet can cause stress, so be sure behavioral issues are resolved. 4. Improved Weight Loss My story, The Doggy Diet, (Guideposts, Dec 2008) shares how Kelly helped inspire me to lose weight (and her, too!). Of course, simply owning a dog won’t make you skinny. But—as with Kelly and me—it can encourage you to go out and take walks together, which may lead to weight loss and improved health. 5. Greater Happiness Pets love you unconditionally. They can reduce loneliness. They make you happy. And when you’re happier, that’s a plus for your health! (This column first appeared on, March 2009)