Pet Dogs And Cats: 6 Health Benefits (PHOTOS)

As the holiday season approaches, pets are often at the top of many children's -- and some adults -- gift lists. You may find the image of an adorable puppy or kitty nestled under the tree or by the hearth pretty irresistible. But you might also be concerned that a new pet can wreak havoc with your home or even be hazardous to your health. Certainly a rambunctious puppy, kitty, or other pet can soil, scratch, chew, and nip. And although some animals do carry diseases, the risk of zoonoses -- as these diseases are called -- is much greater from exotic pets than more common ones. In fact, the health benefits of having a traditional pet far outweigh the risks for most people, according to Healthy Pets Healthy People, a division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The social and emotional benefits of pet ownership are many: companionship, affection, unconditional love, and entertainment, to name a few. Children raised with pets are more likely to be empathetic and social than kids without pets. And having a pet can help enhance a child's self-esteem.

Recent research has also uncovered some surprising physical and psychological benefits of pet ownership for children and adults. And many of the positive effects are not just limited to dogs and cats, but rabbits, rodents, birds, fish, lizards and other pets as well. Here are six of these health benefits:

6 Health Benefits Of Owning A Pet

For more information about health and pets, check out these websites:

Health Pets Healthy People

National Institutes of Health

The Delta Society

The American Veterinary Medical Association

Dr. Joan Liebmann-Smith is writing a book about pets with her daughter, Rebecca.