OWNING a pet is good for your health ... it's official! Pet power can make you live longer, recover faster from illness and be more productive at work.

The UK is a nation of animal lovers, and according to the Pet Health Council, we share our homes with over seven million cats and six million dogs that's a lot of animal magic! The bond between owner and pet is special, but who would have thought it would have health- boosting benefits too?

We list the top 10 reasons why you should have a pet.

1 If you want to live a healthier life get a dog, research suggests. Earlier this year, a psychologist from Queen's University, Belfast, said dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Writing in the British Journal of Health Psychology, Dr Deborah Wells said pet owners tended in general to be healthier than the average person.

2 Dog owners were also found to have fewer minor ailments and serious medical problems.

There was also the suggestion that dogs could aid recovery from serious illnesses such as heart attacks, and act as an early warning' to detect an approaching epileptic seizure.

3 Having a pet can help children develop better social skills.

Researchers at the University of Leicester found that children between birth and age six years in pet-owning families will have better social skills, better speech, better co-ordination, more confidence and will be less likely to suffer from allergies.

4 A five-year-study of 600 children aged 3-18 years revealed that pet owning children who are slow learners or whose parents have divorced cope better with life than those who don't have a pet.

5 Stroking a cat or dog can bring down blood pressure and one study of 369 heart-attack survivors found that those who had dogs were less likely to die within a year than those who didn't. Readers recall first pangs of puppy love and golden memories of fishy friends JUSTINE YOUNG, 32, Dunlop, video editor The first pet I had was a black mongrel called Black Beauty, and yes, I did call her after the horse in the TV show! I was about seven at the time. She was lovely, but we only had her for a couple of years, and then she ran away. I think it's great for children to have pets as it teaches them responsibility and to think about something other than themselves. PETER SINCLAIR, 45, King's Park, training consultant The first dog I had was a West Highland Terrier called Laddie, but he died when we were on holiday in Wales. My parents had to break the news to me in the middle of our stay. Next, we had another Westie called Roussa. He was an anti-social little thing, and was always nipping me. Both those experiences put me off dogs for life, and at an early age, I decided to switch to fish. ELIZABETH LOUDON, 78, Anniesland, retired I had a beautiful West Highland Terrier when my own two daughters were toddlers - now they are in their 50s! His name was Sandy and we all adored him. He was a part of the family for 16 years. People used to compliment the girls on their lovely blue eyes, and they used to tell people they took after their mother while Sandy took after their dad, with his beautiful brown eyes! We all miss him. FRASER GRAY, 19, city centre, student My first ever pet, which I bought myself when I was six-years-old, was a goldfish called Giggsy, named in honour of footballer Ryan Giggs. I felt quite grown up having a pet, because it was me who had to look after it. I fed it and cleaned the tank. It was good fun for a while - I think he lasted about a year - but it was pretty hard work, to be honest. It kind of put me off having pets. So I don't have one at the moment.

6 The British Medical Journal found that pets can often act as social catalysts'. This was particularly important for those at risk of social isolation, such as the elderly or those with physical disabilities. A Warwick University study said 40% of dog owners say they make friends more easily due to their pet.

7 Pets can help recently widowed people deal with stress. A UK study revealed that three months after bereavement, pet owners had fewer physical symptoms, such as crying, than non-pet owners.

8 Cats can help you overcome stress. A Cats Protection study of 500 cat owners aged over 55 revealed 82% found that their cat helped them overcome feelings of stress; 62% said cat ownership helped overcome feelings of loneliness and 75% sometimes preferred to share their feelings with their cat rather than a partner or friend.

The same survey also looked at 100 cat owners aged 13 years or under where 80% said their cat helped them get on better with family and friends while 87% of children regard their cat as a close friend'.

9 IT may sound obvious, but owning a dog is a sure fire way to make sure you - and your pet - get some regular exercise by taking it out for walkies every day.

10 How about taking your beloved pooch or kitty to work with you? They can enhance work productivity too.

According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, having a pet at work created a more productive environment in 73% of firms.

The companies that were surveyed allowed dogs, cats, fish, small animals, reptiles and birds in the workplace. The survey also revealed health benefits such as reduced blood pressure, lowered stress levels and improved physical and emotional health.