A pet is an animal kept for companionship and enjoyment or a household animal, as opposed to livestock, laboratory animals, working animals or sport animals, which are kept for economic reasons. The most popular pets are noted for their loyal or playful characteristics, for their attractive appearance, or for their song. Pets also generally seem to provide their owners with non-trivial health benefits; keeping pets has been shown to help relieve stress to those who like having animals around. There is now a medically-approved class of "therapy animals," mostly dogs, who are brought to visit confined humans. Walking a dog can provide both the owner and the dog with exercise, fresh air, and social interaction.

Around 63 percent of all U.S. households (71.1 million) are pet owners, and more than half of these households have more than one animal. The two most popular pets in most Western countries have been cats and dogs. In the United States, a 2007-2008 survey shows that dog-owning households outnumber those owning cats, but that the number of pet cats is higher than dogs. Combined reptiles are the next popular followed by birds followed by horses.

Pets have the ability to stimulate their caregivers, in particular the elderly, giving people someone to take care of, someone to exercise with, and someone to help them heal from a physically or psychologically troubled past. Having a pet may help people achieve health goals, such as lowered blood pressure, or mental goals, such as decreased stress. There appears to be strong evidence that having a pet can help a person lead a longer, healthier life. In a study of 92 people hospitalized for coronary ailments, within a year 11 of the 29 without pets had died, compared to only 3 of the 52 who had pets. A recent study concluded that owning a pet can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 2% and that pets are better than medication in reducing blood pressure. Dogs which are trained to be guide dogs can help people with visual impairments.

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Author's Bio: 

This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Pets. The Official Guide to Pets is Janie Knetzer. With over twenty five years as an authority on dog care, Janie Knetzer has saved the lives of many dogs while teaching responsible care to dog owners everywhere. Although Janie holds no degrees, she has successfully made an impact on the way people view, care for and value their pets. Knetzer has independently coached individuals and families alike on the importance of educating children early on about treating all animals with respect and kindness.

Additional Resources on Pets can be found at:

Website Directory for Pets
Articles on Pets
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Discussion Board
Janie Knetzer, The Official Guide to Pets