Sure, furry friends are nice to have around, but the benefits of owning a pet may go beyond companionship.
Since the 1980s, studies have linked dogs and cats to health benefits such as higher survival rates after illness, fewer visits to the doctor, and better physical and psychological well-being in the elderly. Cat owners, for example, may be less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke, according to a study presented at the 2008 American Stroke Association Annual Meeting. (Read more about the health benefits of dogs versus cats.)
Not all researchers agree on the relationship between pet ownership and health, but animal lovers don't need much convincing. Thousands of pet-praising blogs (which include ones "written" by the pets themselves, as CNN has reported) permeate the Web. Even January Payne, a medical reporter for U.S. News & World Report, has blogged about her poodle's impact on her health.
Although most pets aren't dragging little boys out of wells, they are involved in saving lives. Seizure dogs provide an alarm system for epilepsy patients, and diabetic alert dogs are trained to identify the scent changes that accompany hypoglycemia. Research has even shown that dogs may be able to smell melanoma and other types of cancer.
If you're still not convinced, view our slideshow of eight pets that helped their owners heal.