04 February 2016

RESEARCH - Pet Ownership Saves Billions in Health Care

Want to be healthy? Eat your fruits and vegetables, get a good night's sleep, regular exercise and add a critter to your life. Pet ownership pays – and recent findings by the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI,) says impressive dividends in the United States amounts to a whopping $11.7 billion in health-care savings annually.

“There was abundant research to show pets have a positive effect on our health, but this is the first time anyone has looked at the impact on the U.S. health-care system,” Terry Clower, study co-author and professor of public policy at George Mason University’s School of Policy where the research was done tells PetLynx. “We did not have specific data on impacts on Canadians ... but (the study) suggests a common trend in Western cultures that I would expect to apply to Canadians.”

Fewer visits to the doctor by pet owners, versus non-pet owners, leads to health-care savings. According to the study, 132.8 million U.S. pet owners visit a doctor 0.6 times less than the average non-pet owners and with the average physician visit costing $139, that means pet owners essentially accrue savings in terms of health dollars.

Although the study was done in the U.S., findings suggest pet owners world-wide reap similar benefits.

In Germany, for instance, pet owners visited a doctor's office 11 times a year compared to non-pet owners who went 12.9 times annually. In Australia, people with a pet at home checked in with the doctor 4.9 times a year compared with pet-free folks who went 5.6 times in the same period.

“Thinking about things that people should do to maintain their health, ‘get a pet’ belongs on that list,” said HABRI executive director Steven Feldman. “Pet ownership provides another way for people to stay healthy and save money.”

Those who take regular walks with their pooch - a group totalling more than 20 million people - boast reduced incidences of obesity thus saving $419 million in related health-care costs.

Happy to see the dog at the door when you get home? The findings also found health benefits of pet ownership go beyond good-for-the-body and offer physiological pay-offs, too, often boosting mental health by offering everything from a reprieve from daily stress and comfort in tough times, like when grieving a loss.

And the health benefits are not promoted only by pooches. “The estimates of impacts of pet ownership on physician visits is not specific to dogs. This includes any pet,” Clower told PetLynx. “There have been separate studies that have found health benefits to dogs, cats, fish and even exotic pets.”

About half of Canadian households, according to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada, own some kind of pet.

Log onto www.habri.org to view the full report.

By Nadia Moharib

Nadia Moharib is a talented freelance writer in a variety of mediums with over 20 years journalism experience.

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