Our beloved pets are so much more than just companions - they're family. Here's a few ways that your pet, whether it be feline, canine, equine, a bird, a fish, whatever, can improve your health.

1. They get you outside and moving

Whether it's just walking to the store to pick up fish food or a full run around the park, animals make you get out of the house and on your feet. The incidental exercise they bring into our lives can do wonders for our health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that animal owners, both adults and children, have lower blood pressure, as well as lower cholesterol and triglycerides, which may be in part attributed to the more active lifestyle pets promote. Pet owners also have been noted to have better circulation, and a lower risk of experiencing major cardiac issues. And when your body feels stronger, you are less susceptible to mental health issues.

2. They can reduce allergies and asthma

While we often associate furry animals with *causing* allergies, studies suggest that children who grow up in homes with pets (from infancy) are half as likely to develop allergies (including dust, grass and pets) and were at a lower risk for asthma.

3. They encourage mindfulness, and living in the present moment

It's hard to ruminate on the past or worry about the future when your dog is rolling around on the floor sticking its tongue out at you, or you're out riding your horse, or you're trying to teach your rat a new trick. This temporary reprieve from anxiety or depression can make a huge difference.

4. Patting them reduces stress

The rhythmic motion and comforting feeling again promotes mindfulness, and helps to calm your breathing and heart rate.

5. They provide a sense of purpose

When you're in a really bleak place, knowing someone cares and depends on you can be literally a lifesaver. As you perform the day to day tasks needed to keep your pet healthy and happy, and they respond positively, you'll have something to hold on to and make you feel good about your contribution to the world. This is especially true if your pets are rescues.