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Live A Healthier Live, Get A Pet

People love their pets. More than 60 percent of U.S. households include pets, and those pet owners pour $41 billion a year into pet care. This may seem like a lot of money. But when you consider the fact that owning a pet could very likely add years to your life, a pet can quickly seem like a wise investment.

According to a study by the Minnesota Stroke Institute that followed more than 4,000 cat owners over 10 years, owning a cat can dramatically reduce a person's chance of dying from heart disease [source: Mundell]. Specifically, people who owned cats were 30 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack. Although those researchers cannot make the same conclusions about dogs based on the data they gathered, they suspect a dog study would provide similar results.

That study merely adds to the existing evidence that shows how animals can benefit human health. For example, psychologists have found reason to believe that owning a dog helps lower your blood pressure and your cholesterol [source: BVA]. And other research shows that pets help us feel better overall and help us to deal with stress, which can be a source of illness [sources: Laino, BBC News].

And let's not forget the benefits for the elderly. For example, one study observed neural activity in seniors while they walked or interacted with a dog [source: Motooka]. It turned out that walking with a dog gave seniors a boost in parasympathetic nervous system activity, which is good because the parasympathetic nervous system helps calm and rest the body.

For whatever reason, pets certainly can have a special effect on their owners. On the next page, find out more about pets' amazing ability to improve our health. Is it really possible for a dog to foresee its owner's seizures and even detect cancer?