As humans, we've always known - on a deep level - that pets make our lives better. Over 5,500 years, they've infiltrated our homes, jobs, schools and even our hospitals. For many of us, we can't imagine our lives without them. In fact, Kiwis own more pets per household that anywhere else in the world (apart from the United States) with 64% of New Zealand households owning at least one pet.
There's now a significant amount of evidence supporting the idea that owning a pet is good for your mental wellbeing. Most of us who have owned a pet don't need science to tell us that having our cat or dog snuggled up with us makes us happy - we know it already!
Here's what we know for sure:
Having a pet means you're likely to exercise more
According to research conducted by the University of Western Australia, people who own a dog are more likely to increase their recreational walking by a massive 48 minutes per week - that's around 800 steps per day. In addition, the study confirmed that dog owners are significantly more likely to achieve and exceed their recommended daily exercise targets.
Even without getting active, pets can improve your cardiovascular system
In a recent study conducted by Harvard Medical School, researchers found that dog owners had lower cholesterol levels than non-owners and that these differences couldn't be explained by diet, smoking, or body mass index (BMI). What's more, a mammoth 20-year-long study in the United States found that participants who owned a cat were 40 per cent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who had never owned a feline in their life.
Pets can transform the therapeutic process
A recent study showed that when children with autism have a guinea pig in their classroom, they're more likely to smile, laugh and socialise with their peers. In addition, a 2010 study found that even a short period of physical contact with a pet - in this case, a turtle and a rabbit - was enough to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and panic in a group of stressed-out adults.
Kids who are exposed to pets have stronger immune systems
While many people think animals are more likely to cause allergies in children, it seems the exact opposite is true. Research published in a well-respected health journal has demonstrated that the mere presence of cats and dogs in the home - particularly during the perinatal period - can help children acclimatise their immune systems and form lifelong resistances to a range of intolerances.