Pet owners are happier, have higher self-esteem, and are less lonely. They also get more exercise - which leads them to be physically fit, according to a survey on 10,000 pet parents.

The top benefit of owning a pet is happiness, according to 71 percent of pet owners in France and 90 percent in the United States - where 70 percent of the 3,100 pet owners say that their furry friends reduce their stress. In other words, if pet owners had tails, they'd wag them. 

Houzz surveyed pet owners in 11 countries: the United States, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Germany, Australia and Japan, with the results being reviewed by Miami University professor Allen R. McConnell. He runs a research lab that studies processes associated with human-constructed relationships - including how pets affect well-being.

According to McConnell, the Houzz study coincides with his own findings, which concludes that pet ownership is very rewarding. McConnell, along with researchers at the Oxford Ohio College, published "Friends with Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership" 2011 study of 217 community members. The research discovered that pets provide as much support as siblings and parents. Only best friends ranked higher.

The Houzz study, as well as McConnell's research, also revealed that pet owners spoil their pets because these cute animals make them happy.

Pet parents allow their kittens and puppies to lounge on furniture and share their beds. Pets are also pampered with expensive dog foods and special products.

Seventy-eight percent of American and 35 percent of French respondents confessed to allowing their cats to lie around on the furniture. Forty-eight percent of American and 15 percent French pet parents issued their dogs the same privilege.

Fifty-three percent of the American and 30 percent of French and German respondents sleep with their cats, while 41 percent of Americans and 14 percent of Spaniards sleep with their dogs.

"Dogs sleeping on beds and people buying sweaters for cats is more of a U.S. phenomenon," McConnell says. "We spend over $50 billion annually in this country on pet supplies and animal care." 

Pets are most spoiled in the U.S., a phenomenon linked to the nation's affluence. 

Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University and the author of "Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat," has been studying various aspects of human-animal interactions for 25 years, including cultural differences in pet keeping. He suspects the pet relations of Americans shifted in the 1950s during the popularity of "Lassie," a TV series about a boy and his collie.

"The show had a big impact on kids and parents, who thought their kids needed to grow up with a dog to be psychologically happy," Herzog says. "Then the pet products industry gets involved and feeds this with advertising." He also points to studies done on how other media - and celebrities - influence which kinds of breeds become popular.