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Could Your Pet be the Next Big Health Care Breakthrough?

By LauraNewcomer on Dec. 28, 2016

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Recent research from the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) shows that our pets are good for our health. Specifically, having a dog or cat in the home can help reduce allergies, improve cardiovascular health and mental health, support stronger social health—and more! If you’re a pet parent, then it’s probably no surprise that pet interaction can provide notable mental and physical health perks. As more and more attention is paid in literature, media, pop culture and so on to the human-animal bond, there’s a growing body of research that points to the many health benefits of petting, playing and otherwise interacting with pets.

If you’re skeptical (or simply looking for another reason to adopt a new puppy) read on to learn how interacting with pets can benefit your health—and save you serious money in the process.

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How Pets Benefit Their Parents’ Mental and Physical Health
A number of studies show pet parents’ health is positively impacted by their pets in a number of ways, including:

  • Reduction of allergies
    A variety of studies suggest that childhood exposure to cats and dogs may reduce the risk of developing allergies and allergic diseases as an adult, including asthma in childhood or adulthood.
  • Improved cardiovascular health
    A 2013 American Heart Association statement provided an overview of the impact of pets on humans’ cardiovascular system. The statement explained living with a pet may reduce blood pressure, hypertension and the risk of cardiovascular disease. (Some of these benefits may be due to the fact that pet parents are more likely to be physically active.) Additionally, pet parents who suffer from heart attacks are likely to survive longer and recover faster than heart attack patients who don’t have pets.  
  • Improved cholesterol
    A few studies suggest that pet parenting can lead to improved cholesterol levels as well as a reduction in triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood and high levels can be a risk factor for heart disease and may require prescription drug treatment.
  • Stronger immune defense against infection
    A 2012 study found nursing home residents with pet contact experienced a lower infection rate of multi-drug resistant staphylococci bacteria compared to residents without pet interaction.
  • Improved mental health
    More and more studies confirm that pets of all kinds—dogs, cats, snakes, fish, goats and more—can significantly reduce people’s stress levels. Additional research has found being around pets can reduce anxiety and depression; help alleviate symptoms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; and may help in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Read about the shelter dog who brought new life to a soldier with PTSD.

One reason pets can help reduce stress is because nteracting with animals can elevate levels of the feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine. Another possible explanation for these positive mental impacts is that taking care of a pet provides a sense of purpose and introduces love and companionship into a pet parent’s life.

  • Better social health
    There’s evidence that pets provide their parents with additional opportunities for socialization, such as at the local dog park, at a dog training class or through a dog playgroup. Pets can also provide shy people with conversation starters as well as a common bond that allows them to connect with other people. As a result, pets have been shown to decrease people’s feelings of loneliness.

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How Pets Save Billions on Health Care Costs
A recent study by HABRI, conducted in collaboration with George Mason University, found that pet parents across the U.S. collectively enjoy an estimated $11.7 billion reduction in health care costs each year. Yes, you read that right: $11.7 billion. In fact, the study’s authors estimate health care savings may be even higher, pending additional data on the quantifiable health benefits of pet parenthood.

Drawing from the results of the 2015–2016 National Pet Owners Survey from the American Pet Products Association (APPA), HABRI found that approximately 65 percent of all U.S. households have one or more pets. While longitudinal surveys note that people who continuously share a home with a pet(s) are healthier than people who don’t currently have a pet or have never had one, virtually none of the health benefits we mentioned above factor into the $11.7 billion health care savings estimate.

So what, then, is the source of the estimated $11.7 billion reduction in health care costs associated with pet parenthood? Let’s take a look.

While a lack of available data prevented HABRI from quantifying the health care cost savings associated with the health benefits outlined above, the team was able to conservatively estimate the contributions of pet parenthood by lowering total health care spending in two main areas.

Physician visits
First, HABRI noted a lower incidence of physician office visits by pet parents compared to people who don’t have pets. According to the study’s most conservative estimate, the 132.8 million pet parents in the U.S. visit a doctor 0.6 fewer times than the average non-pet parent. This difference is even greater in other countries. In Germany and Australia, for example, pet parents visit a doctor at least 11 percent less often than non-pet parents. Additionally, dog parents have a lower average rate of physician visits than other pet parents. Considering the average cost of a physician’s office visit computes to $139, pet parents generate more than $11 billion in health care savings simply by visiting the doctor less often.

Dog walking
Secondly, dog parents who walk their dog five times a week or more enjoy physical health benefits that lead to extra health care savings. Twenty-three percent of dog parents—or more than 20 million people—fall into this category. By walking their dogs multiple times a week, some pet parents experience a five percent lower rate of obesity compared to non-pet parents. Drawing from the APPA survey results as well as census data, the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the researchers calculated these health benefits decreased health care spending to the tune of $419 million each year.

The results of the HABRI study are nothing short of staggering. If these two aspects of pet parenthood can generate more than $11 billion in health care savings each year, then we can only imagine how that number would rise if researchers were able to calculate the economic advantages of the many health benefits of pet parenting.

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Become a Pet Parent for Better Health
When you look at this research, one thing becomes immediately clear: Having a pet is good for your health.

These benefits serve as a call to pet parents to appreciate all the ways our pets improve our lives. In fact, a separate HABRI study that surveyed 2,000 pet parents found that when we understand the ways pets benefit our lives, we’re more likely to take good care of them by purchasing pet health insurance, providing high-quality nutrition, socializing on a daily basis, refusing to give up a pet for any reason and making preventative health care (in the form of vaccines and regular visits to the veterinarian) a priority. The survey also found that pet parents enjoy learning about the value pets bring to their lives, especially from veterinarians and physicians.

It’s a beautiful cycle: Our pets provide us with a wide variety of mental and physical health benefits as well as cost savings on health care. The more we appreciate this, the more likely we are to take good care of our pets—and the more likely they are to continue bringing these benefits to our lives.

Read more about the top benefits of pet parenthood.

Planning on adding a new pet to the family? Score everything your new pet needs with a Pet Parents Savings Book, available in stores only.

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1 Comments
Comments
by Debbie123
‎02-10-2017 05:32 AM

I've found since I got my rescue dog, I've been doing a lot more exercise than previously so this certainly rings true with me. I recently got a dog ball thrower for my pooch and we spend a lot of time outdoors moving around as a result.

I've found since I got my rescue dog, I've been doing a lot more exercise than previously so this certainly rings true with me. I recently got a dog ball thrower for my pooch and we spend a lot of time outdoors moving around as a result.

Posted on Feb. 10, 2017
About the Author
  • Laura Newcomer is a writer, editor, and educator with multiple years of experience working in the environmental and personal wellness space. Formerly Senior Editor at the health site Greatist, Laura now lives and works in Pennsylvania. Her writing has been published on Washington Post, TIME Healthland, Greatist, DailyBurn, Lifehacker, and Business Insider, among others. She has taught environmental education to students of all ages in both Pennsylvania and Maine, and prioritizes living an environmentally sustainable lifestyle. She’s a big proponent of creating self-sustaining communities and accessible healthy food systems that care for both people and the earth. An avid outdoorswoman, she can often be found hiking, kayaking, backpacking, and tending to her garden.
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