Pet owners are happier, healthier and better adjusted than non-pet owners, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions,” said lead researcher Allen R. McConnell, PhD, of Miami University in Ohio. Pet owners are more physically fit, conscientious and extraverted and less lonely and fearful than non-pet owners

Psychologists at Miami University and Saint Louis University conducted three experiments and found that pet owners tend to be more physically fit, conscientious and extraverted and less lonely and fearful than people who do not own pets.

The study also found that pet owners were just as close to key people in their lives as to their animals, indicating that relationships with pets do not come at the expense of relationships with other people, or that people rely more on pets when their human social support was poorer.

One experiment found that owning dogs, in particular, increased feelings of belonging, self-esteem and a meaningful existence. Another experiment determined that writing about pets was just as effective as writing about a friend when it came to staving off feelings of rejection.

Until now, most research into the benefits of pets has been correlational, meaning it looked at the relationship between two variables but didn’t show that one caused the other. For example, prior research showed that elderly Medicare patients with pets had fewer doctor visits than similar patients without pets, or that HIV-positive men with pets were less depressed than those without.

“Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership,” by Allen R. McConnell, PhD, Miami University; Christina M. Brown, PhD, Saint Louis University; Tonya M. Shoda, MA, Laura E. Stayton, BA, and Colleen E. Martin, BA, Miami University was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 101, No. 6.