June is National Adopt-a-Cat Month, making it a great time to reflect on how much happiness our cats—and pets in general—bring to our lives. Indeed, our furry (and feathery…and scaly) friends bring us lots of laughter and joy, but there is something else they may be able to do, too—help us live longer.

Can pets really can lengthen our lives and help us to live longer? According to several studies, the answer may be yes.

First of all, it should be noted that many of the studies on this subject are observational studies, as opposed to randomized, double-blind controlled trials. These limitations mean that we can’t be certain that having a pet directly causes improvements in health. However, there are a number of studies which show that pet ownership is associated with better health and therefore living longer.

Heart health

Pets seem to have an especially strong influence on their humans’ hearts. Compared to those who don’t own dogs, dog owners are much more likely to still be alive one year after a heart attack, regardless of how severe it was. In another study, cat owners had a decreased risk for heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. According to this study, petting a dog or cat has the ability to lower people’s heart rate and blood pressure.

It’s even been shown that simply having your pet in the room can have a positive effect. One study found that having one’s dog in the room lowered heart rates under stress more than blood pressure medication.

This research seems to be having an effect. In 2013 the American Heart Association issued a statement saying that owning a pet—a dog in particular—could reduce your risk of heart disease and help you live longer.

Other benefits

In addition to heart health, pets have been shown to have a positive impact on depression, self-esteem, stress, and loneliness. This is especially important for elderly people, and there are many successful pet therapy programs in nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the U.S. Studies have shown that animal-assisted therapy, or AAT, can reduce depression, agitation, and aggression in nursing home patients with dementia, and help them participate in social activities.

Pets can have a tangible impact on people’s health and well-being, and even help extend their lives. In this way, it can be said that pets protect us. Another way to protect your family—including your animal family members—is with life insurance. Making the smart decision to purchase life insurance can help pay funeral costs, pay off debts and replace income, and more.

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