Wearing fur? A definite fashion "don't" in most animal lovers' books. But cuddling with a living, breathing furry friend? It may help improve your health and happiness.

Three concurrent studies revealed that pet ownership offers lots of physical and emotional advantages, including better self-esteem, better physical conditioning, and improved health and happiness compared with people in pet-free households.

Friends with Benefits

While it has long been known that pets can help people overcome major life-stressors (think therapy dogs), scientists wanted to determine whether pets were beneficial to people in everyday life. And it turns out a pet is quite a good friend indeed. In one study, surveys of pet owners and non-owners revealed that people who own pets exercised more, felt less lonely and more extroverted, had greater self-esteem, and were just healthier and happier overall compared with people who didn't own pets. A second study revealed that the more social interaction people had with their dogs, the happier and better adjusted the people were. And finally, the third study showed that focusing on their pets helped people deal better with negative emotions.

Good Dog

So how could a four-legged critter without opposable thumbs be so darn helpful? Well, for one, pets help people get off the couch for regular neighborhood walks or games of backyard fetch, upping calorie burn. Pets also provide their very own unique brand of social support for their human companions. All of which may result in better physical and emotional well-being for pet owners.