pets make us healthier and wealthier: study shows pet ownership saves us billions in medical costs

Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward on Feb 17 2016
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You know the old saying: Early to bed and owning a pet makes you healthy, wealthy and wise. OK, maybe I added the pet part, but it’s true. We’ve known for decades that owning a pet can improve everything from high blood pressure to heart disease, stress and chronic pain. A new study concludes that pet ownership also saves us billions in healthcare costs. That’s news worth barking about.

The study was conducted by my friends at the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation. Their mission is to research and promote the many emotional and health benefits of pet ownership. HABRI set out to quantify the impact pet ownership has on reducing medical appointments and obesity rates of pet owners versus people who haven’t yet discovered the joys of sharing their lives with animals. HABRI’s results proved owning a pet makes a lot of health and economic sense.

First, people who own pets visit the doctor less frequently for illnesses. HABRI estimates this reduction in doctor’s office visits generates savings of $11.4 billion per year compared to people who don’t have pets. For those pet-less people: over seven million homeless pets are standing by, eager to reduce our healthcare costs. Adopt and be healthier!

Second, the HABRI study found pet owners had lower obesity rates and exercised more than people without pets. 23% of dog owners responded they walk their dog five or more times a week. Obesity was 5% lower in dog owners who regularly walk their dog compared to non-pet people. HABRI estimated this saved $419 million in healthcare costs. Imagine the savings we’d see if we could empty animal shelters and fill these homes with instant exercise partners.

Add these together and HABRI concludes pet ownership saves the U.S. healthcare system nearly $12 billion a year. The study authors suggested these values may actually be higher once additional healthcare data is analyzed. My tail’s wagging just thinking about it.

You can’t put a price on the love we share with our pets, although $12 billion is a good starting point. Perhaps most important, pets enrich our souls and heal our bodies in ways we can’t scientifically measure. Studies such as these validate the emotions invoked each morning and night when we caress, chat and cuddle with our furry family members. I believe the real reason we’re compelled to share our meals and beds with animals is because we know they make us better. Animals complement and complete us in ways our own species can’t.

Science is catching up to our instinct and helping us understand how important this connection is to us all. If you know one of those non-pet people, tell them about this study. Who can argue with better health and saving money? Now take your dog for a walk and get plenty of rest, confident you’ll be healthier and wealthier.