Want to lift yourself out of the doldrums? It may be as simple as finding the right furry (or scaly) friend. Studies have shown that owning or interacting with animals has a host of health benefits, from physical to mental, and that everyone from young children to seniors can benefit.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a growing number of therapists use animals during sessions with patients. This is because it’s often easier for people who have mental disorders to interact with animals than with other people. In fact, having troubled people pet dogs, cats, and rabbits while talking about their experiences can help them feel more able to interact socially with people and calm aggressive impulses. Some organizations rely on trained volunteers to bring their pets with them to nursing homes, prisons, and psychiatric hospitals.

Animals benefits us in other ways, too. It’s been well documented that people who own animals are in better health than non pet owners. They’re more physically active, since taking care of animals requires work, and are better able to attend to their own needs than people without pets. Stroking a soft animal such as a dog or a cat can measurably lower blood pressure and anxiety while increasing joy and energy levels. And since people talk to animals—and animals, in many cases, “talk” back—there are social and conversational pluses to owning them.

Think about it: If you’re depressed and living alone, you could conceivably spend the entire day in bed without any incentive to get up. But if you have a dog, the dog needs to be taken out. It needs attention and exercise. A cat will jump on your bed, meow, and often walk all over you until you get up to feed it. When you’re depressed, an animal will cuddle up with you, enabling you to feel less isolated and alone.

What it comes down to is that having a pet requires a person to put aside his or her own needs and grievances and focus on that pet, experts say. Having a pet gives you something to live for. And that furry distraction may be all someone needs to perk up.