New research shows that pet owners go to the doctor less frequently than their non-pet-owning peers, according to the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative. The economic analysis, conducted by researchers at George Mason University, calculated more than $11 billion in savings in U.S. health care costs as a result of pet ownership.
The biggest savings was calculated from the lower incidence of physician office visits by pet owners as compared to non-pet owners. In the study, 132.8 million pet owners in the United States visited a physician 0.6 fewer times than people without pets. With the average office visit costing $139, pet owners saved $11.37 billion in healthcare costs, according to the release.
Dog walkers, in particular, got a special “shout out” from researchers. The more than 20 million people who walk their dog five or more times per week showed a lower incidence of obesity and a $419 million savings in related healthcare costs.
Researchers said that more data was necessary before they could calculate savings on the positive impact of pet ownership on infection control, cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, stress and psychological issues.
“Because this analysis is limited and conservative,” researchers wrote, “the healthcare savings associated with pet ownership is likely to be even greater.”
Founded by Petco, Zoetis and the American Pet Products Association, the HABRI Foundation maintains an online library of human-animal bond research and information and has funded more than $500,000 in research projects to scientifically document the health benefits of companion animals.