Yes, it appears to be true. An economic study conducted by researchers from George Mason University concluded that pet ownership results in an annual savings of $11.8 billion in U.S. health care costs. This is the first study to show that pet ownership has a beneficial financial impact on our health care system.
The researchers reported that the largest savings stemmed from the lower incidence of physician office visits by pet owners as compared to non-owners. They found that the 132.8 million pet owners in the U.S. visit doctors 0.6 fewer times per year than average non-pet owners. Since the average cost of a physician visit is $139, that amounts to saving $11.37 billion in health care costs.
Additional savings stem from the more than 20 million dog owners who walk their dogs five or more times a week. These individuals have a lower incidence of obesity and as a result are responsible for a savings of $419 million in related health care costs.
The researchers also considered scientific studies demonstrating a positive impact from pet ownership on cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cholesterol, allergies, stress, infection control and psychological issues, but determined that more economic information is needed in order to calculate these benefits. They wrote, “Because this analysis is limited and conservative, the health care cost savings associated with pet ownership is likely to be even greater” than the billions already calculated. The study was sponsored by the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation (HABRI), a non-profit organization that gathers, supports and shares scientific research on the health impacts of animals on humans.
The savings revealed by this study are impressive. We know that pet owners have less illness, recover faster from serious health challenges, and tend to be more content than people who do not care for companion animals. The latest National Pet Owners Survey shows that 65 percent of U.S. households – some 79.7 million homes – own pets, and their inhabitants may be healthier than non-pet owners as a result. If you’re looking for ways to improve your health, you could do worse than adopting a pet. Commenting on the results of the HABRI study, the organization’s executive director Steven Feldman notes that when health insurance companies are looking at wellness incentives to keep costs down, they should consider pet ownership.
Caring for a companion is good for the animals too, and millions of them in shelters nationwide urgently need good homes.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Terry L. Clower and Tonya T. Neaves, “The Health Care Cost Savings of Pet Ownership,” for the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative, https://www.habri.org/docs/HABRI_Report_-_Healthcare_Cost_Savings_from_Pet_Ownership_.pdf, accessed January 13, 2016p>