There are approximately 65 million pets in the UK and roughly half of all households have at least one pet. It isn’t difficult to imagine that our animals have a major impact on the nation’s economy. A new report published by CABI attempts to quantify the costs and benefits of our animals.
This report highlights the fact that animals have become less like possessions and more like members of the family. It has become increasingly important to understand how animals influence all aspects of our lives.
The authors of the report called on scientific studies from the last twenty years to assess how pets effect human health. They found that dog owners walk far more than non-dog owners and that they suffer from significantly less minor health problems. Older dog owners are twice as likely to maintain good mobility than non-dog owners. Pet owners in general have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol and boast a better survival rate following heart attacks.
Pets also impact our mental health. Pet owners feel less lonely and report feeling happier than those without animals. A strong bond with a pet has been shown to ease depression associated with bereavement.
Studies have found that childhood exposure to pets reduces the incidence of allergies and asthma.
Reducing the Burden on the NHS
If pet owners are healthier then they place less burden on the health service as they make fewer visits to their doctors and to hospitals. There have been several studies around the world which have attempted to quantify the savings. An Australian study estimated that pet ownership resulted in a saving of 11% in expenditure on medical treatment and a German study estimated savings of 24%.
Naturally the health expenditure which is actually caused by pets must be factored in. This would include the costs of treating dog bites and injuries resulting from accidents involving animals such as car crashes after drivers have swerved to avoid pets in the road. Taking everything into account, the CABI report states that pets could be reducing healthcare expenditure by 10% in the UK. This is a conservative estimate and would have meant a saving of £2.45 billion in 2013. Wow!
Pets and Human Society
The authors of the report stress that this is only an estimate and that further research is required. But it seems likely that pets are saving the NHS a huge amount of money. The report also emphasises the many ways in which pets enhance their owner’s lives and contribute to society. Guide dogs, hearing dogs and the many animals who help people with physical and mental challenges such as autism, all make a significant contribution to human society.
It would be hard to quantify the precise social and economic impact of pets but it is clear that our animals have a positive effect on many aspects of our lives. But then any pet owner would already know that!