The benefits of pets on both physical and psychological human health have been shown in many studies over the last 2 decades. In this survey of the literature, pets are shown to help people stay healthy or recover from an illness more rapidly by providing comfort, nonjudgmental companionship, and relief from stress or isolation. Experience caring for a pet can increase self-esteem and self-confidence for almost anyone, especially a child. Among the many gifts animals provide:
• A consistent source of love, support, learning, and nurture for children, formerly provided by siblings in larger families
• Help in creating a closer family by bridging age gaps and providing a common focus of responsibility and caring
• Reduction of symptoms and increased learning capability in hyperactive or difficult children
• Prevention of heart disease by significantly lowering systolic blood pressure, plasma triglycerides, and cholesterol values
• Reduction of anxiety in health center waiting areas (viewing feeding stations for wild animals, birds in cages, and fish tanks)
• Opportunities for positive communication between patient and therapist with animal-assisted therapy
• For the elderly, improved quality of life and stress reduction, a social link, and opportunity for regular exercise
• Help for the physically disabled-providing guides for the blind; aides for the hearing impaired/those with seizure disorders, among others; as well as increased social interaction and acceptance
• Prison inmates who have pets to look after or train for disabled people become less violent, need less medication, and feel better about their lives.

The benefits of pet ownership. Stafford K, Kyono M. Irish Vet J 55:343-349, 2002.