We know that walkies are good for your waistline and blood pressure but that’s not where the benefits of dog ownership end

Pets make young kids healthier

Research in the Pediatrics journal found that children who live in a home with a pet during their first year of life are more likely to be healthier than kids who don’t live with pets, thanks to a better immune system. Specifically, they had 31% fewer respiratory tract infections, 44% fewer ear infections and needed fewer antibiotics, researchers found. Cats also seemed to have a beneficial effect on kids’ health, but not as strong as dogs, the researchers said.

They can detect certain types for cancer

A study done by the Pine Street Foundation (shown in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies) found that dogs can detect if someone has cancer just by sniffing their breath. Ordinary household dogs with only a few weeks of basic “puppy training” learned to accurately distinguish between breath samples of lung- and breast-cancer patients and healthy subjects. Dogs can identify chemical traces in the range of parts per trillion, and researchers hope that man’s best friend can become an important tool in early screening. Previous studies have confirmed the ability of trained dogs to detect skin-cancer melanomas by sniffing skin lesions, and in detecting prostate cancer by smelling patients’ urine.

Pooches pump your confidence

People with pets have more self-esteem and feel less lonely than people without pets, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers found they are an important source of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits. They can be especially good for kids. When child psychologist Robert Bierer conducted a study of 128 children, he concluded that pre-adolescent kids who get the chance to help care for dogs tend to have higher self-esteem and empathy than those who do not.

Dogs cut down on child obesity

Research on childhood obesity by Jo Salmon, a professor in the school of exercise and nutrition sciences at Australia’s Deakin University, showed that dog ownership can decrease a child’s chances of being obese by as much as 50%.

They can teach your heart to adapt

A study in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that for people with chronic diseases, having a pet is linked with the heart’s capability to adapt to any number of circumstances that can affect the body (like increasing heartbeat speed during a stressful moment). Reuters reported that the people who owned pets had heart rates that changed more than people who didn’t own pets – meaning the heart rates were more adaptable.

Pets can help with depression

In research done by the University of California, pet ownership could help protect men with AIDS from developing depression. Specifically, depression was three times more likely to be reported by men with AIDS who didn’t have pets, compared with those who did have pets, researchers said. “Pet ownership among men who have AIDS provides a certain level of companionship that helps them cope better with the stresses of their lives,” study researcher Judith Siegel said in a statement.