We are living more separately now days than we did 30 years ago when social connection was a lot more common and science is now proving the impacts this has on our heath. Loneliness is one of the top reasons people see a therapist in the US now and a recent study suggests that over 25% of Americans feel they don’t have any close friends with which they’d share a problem. In the age of social media when we may have hundreds of friends on facebook we are actually getting increasingly lonely. Studies are now suggesting that social connection is as important to our health as diet and exercise and that social isolation is having a detrimental impact on our health.Anyone who has owned a much loved pet will attest to the benefits, the smiles they bring to us, the comfort and companionship. Pets can ease loneliness, reduce stress, encourage exercise and studies now show they may even help you live longer. Most notably;• Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression.• People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations.• Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.• Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.• Pet owners over age 65 make 30% fewer visits to their doctors.The use of pet therapy is becoming increasingly popular for the sick and elderly, this involves organisations bringing specially trained animals to visit those who are sick, depressed and lonely by bringing a smile to their face, providing companionship and calming anxiety to aid recovery.But what if you are not able to have pets of your own? The Japanese have found the answer to this in Paro the therapeutic robot seal being used to help treat the sick and elderly. Designed to look and move like a real pet and respond to interaction, it is thought to help combat loneliness, make people smile, help keep them calm and is also used to help dementia sufferers. Paro has already been a real hit in nursing homes across the globe.The studies seem to show more health benefits with dogs rather than cats probably due to the fact that a cat couldn’t care less about your health, aslong as you feed her, let her out and let her sit on your knee, bed, book, coat, desk, sofa and whenever else she wants. My family have had dogs and cats for as long as I can remember and the love, affection and company they have provided over the years for anyone who has visited the house has been immeasurable.I have always admired the unconditional love you get from a dog, partly due to having less brain cells as cats will testify, cats will only love you when it suits and usually if there’s something in it for them. But what dogs lack in brains they make up for in heart (and appetite if they are Labradors)! I love both cats and dogs and animals in general but have noted that cats will tolerate us whereas dogs worship us but both bring benefits far beyond their company;• The dog makes me feel safe when I am sleeping alone in the house• He immediately cleans up any food I may have spilled on the floor• The cat keeps me warm when she’s curled up on my bed• She also keeps the mice population down in the garden shed• The dog makes me exercise, even on the coldest days when he needs his walk• When I am sick or sad they seem to know and come and curl up bedside me• They have replaced the alarm clock as my morning wake up call• They think it’s ok to go to sleep in the afternoon, in fact they encourage it• They listen to you, even when you say the craziest things, and they never argue• When I come home from shopping they great me as if I’ve returned from a six month expedition across the dessert.I have grown up with animals around and I think it’s great for kids to learn how to look after something from a young age, even if it is a goldfish or a hamster, it also teaches kids lessons about life and death but the impact of pets goes much further than that. For me I am happier when animals are around and I always feel special when I come home to pets.