Having a pet has been found to lower stress levels. Now, a new study finds for those living with chronic disease having a furry friend improves heart health.

Researchers at Kitasato University in Kanagawa, Japan, monitored nearly 200 people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol over 24 hours, and also asked them about their daily activities and whether or not they were pet owners. About four in 10 were pet owners, Naoko Aiba and colleagues report in the American Journal of Cardiology.

Each person wore a heart monitor for 24 hours to determine their heart rate variability, or how well their hearts responded to the body’s changing requirements, like beating faster during stressful situations. Reduced heart rate variability has been linked to a higher risk of dying from heart disease.

For pet owners in the study, about five percent of their heartbeats differed by 50 milliseconds in length, but for non-pet owners, that number was 2.5 percent — which means their heart rate changed less.

While no one’s entirely sure what caused the difference and researchers were quick to point out the experiment only covered one 24-hour period, Judith Siegel, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Health, told Reuters Health, “My guess is that pets are a form of social support, hence stress reduction, and they can satisfy some but not all social companionship needs.”

But should you get a furry, feathered or scaly companion just to keep your heart healthy?

Erika Friedmann, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, said people who want pets should get them — but, she adds, “It’s not going to cure someone.”

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