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All the Reasons Pets Are Good for You

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Owning a pet is one of the few experiences that can make you amenable to receiving a slobbery kiss from an animal that also licks its butt. Pets are funny, they're sweet, and if they're cute enough, you might just be able to make a killing on them by turning them into YouTube stars.

But not everybody sees the innate benefits of pet ownership. If you need help convincing your partner or roommate to let you get a pet, this guide may help tip them over the edge.

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Dogs make you exercise more
Taking your dog for a walk does more than just find your pet a less obnoxious place to pee than in your hallway. Family medicine practitioner Dr. Mia Finkelston tells us about an NIH-funded study that showed dog owners get more exercise than those who didn't -- and were less likely to be obese.

Veterinarian Dr. Louise Murray, author of Vet Confidential, agrees with the findings. "More than half of dog owners have said that their dogs make them more active," she tells us.

Dr. Murray also notes that staying active helps your dog, and older dogs can be reinvigorated by living with more active, younger dogs. So even if your old dog seem really, really, deeply annoyed by the new puppy, know that being around puppyhood is good for him in the long run.

"When there's a younger dog in the home, older dogs get more activity... they can also be calmed by having a companion pet," Dr. Murray explains.

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Pets can reduce anxiety
If you recently came home to a litter box mishap or another pair of chewed-up socks, this might sound pretty unbelievable. But pets in general -- and especially furry pets -- help reduce anxiety, says psychologist Dr. Sarah Allen.

"When someone is anxious, adrenaline floods through the body," Dr. Allen explains. "The physical act of petting an animal -- smoothing a furry cat or dog -- helps you breathe more evenly, reduces your adrenaline levels, and can really calm down your whole autonomic system." Which means those nights when you do nothing other than watch Netflix and pet your cat? You're actually proactively reducing your stress levels in a way that's totally backed up by science.

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Animals can make you less depressed

"One study of over 1,800 men showed that AIDS patients who had pets were much less likely to feel depressed," Dr. Finkelston notes. "Stroking a purring cat has been found to increase serotonin levels and decrease cortisol."

She also explains that medications like Prozac and other SSRIs are designed, in part, to allow more serotonin to float around in your brain. While petting a fluffy animal may not have the exact same effects as popping a pill, studies have shown that this action can raise serotonin levels. It's not exactly "medicine," but it's not a bad option.

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