It’s no secret we’re a nation of animal lovers, so much so that we need a National Pet Month to celebrate the many benefits! People around the country are being educated about responsible pet ownership, as well as raising money for pets in need. But did you know that pets are good for our health? Research shows that owning a pet can help reduce stress, improve mental and physical health and get you outside more - read on.

1. Pets are good for our mental wellbeing

It’s estimated that one in four of us in the UK experiences mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and stress, each year. Yet, according to the Mental Health Foundation, having our furry and feathered friends around us can have a really positive effect on our mental wellbeing. They can be great motivators, getting us out of the house into the fresh air for a brisk walk, which can be a great natural medicine for people with depression. Meeting other dog owners in the park can also help people feel connected socially and less withdrawn.

The Alzheimer’s Society also believes that, in some circumstances, caring for a pet can benefit people with dementia, as having a dog, for example, can aid independence and wellbeing and lessen feelings of isolation.

2. Pets can help lower your stress levels

There’s something eminently soothing about stroking your dog’s fur or tickling your cat’s belly and getting licked or purred at for your efforts. Research shows that cuddling or playing with your pet releases the love hormone oxytocin, which can help reduce stress and accounts for the warm, fuzzy feeling you get! In addition, more than a third of people in a Blue Cross survey described their first pet as a best friend. That’s because animals make us laugh and cheer us up when we’re feeling low or ill, and create that special bond that we can rely on. Just think Shaggy and Scooby Doo - need we say more?

3. Pets are good for our physical health

If you’re out walking your dog or miniature pot-bellied pig, you’re improving your cardiovascular health. According to the British Heart Foundation, regular exercise can help reduce your risk of heart disease and obesity, as well as lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol.

Pet owners usually spend more time outside in the fresh air - cue an increase in vitamin D, which is vital to help absorb calcium and promote healthy bones. Ok, so we may have to invest in a good raincoat and a pair of wellies, but it’s worth it to give your heart health a boost!

4. Pets can boost your family’s health!

Pets are good for children - fact! Research from pet insurers Animal Friends shows that exposure to some pets, such as dogs or cats, in early childhood might have a positive effect on young immune systems, and that the dander in their fur can help prevent children from developing allergies. In addition, the germs animals naturally bring into our homes from outside can improve immunity to colds and other mild illnesses; in fact, babies who live in a home with a dog tend to experience fewer infections than those who don’t, previous studies have shown!

5. Pets mean prizes – or, at least, possibly cheaper health insurance!

When you take out a health insurance policy, the insurer takes into account your overall health when calculating your premiums. This means that all those dog walks and horse rides are not only helping to keep you fit and healthy, but potentially lowering your premiums too! And did you know that some of our health insurance partners offer free Apple watches and Fitbits when you take out a policy, so you can track exactly how many miles you and your loyal walking companion are clocking up each day?

To compare health insurance quotes for you and your family, use our handy online tool. And find out more about National Pet Month, which runs until May 7!