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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

News & Views March 2016 Issue

They Give You Money As Well As Love

The cost savings of owning a dog.

I was not thrilled. Our border collie Franklin had an infection that, after blood tests and medications and the requisite cone around his head so he wouldn’t lick the affected spot, cost us almost $500. But then I read an article that demonstrated Franklin and the other 80 million or so dogs in the United States (along with other pets) are helping to save Americans almost $12 billion a year in healthcare costs. What’s a few hundred dollars compared to that?

Researchers at George Mason University in Virginia made the finding on behalf of the Human Animal Bond Initiative. In looking at data showing differences in the number of annual doctor visits between pet owners and non-pet owners, and taking a conservative estimate of the cost of a 15-minute doctor’s visit, they were able to crunch the numbers.

Among the many reasons offered by the researchers for why owners of dogs and other animals need fewer doctor visits:

BIGSTOCK

Who knew they were saving us money?

Lower triglyceride levels, which translates to fewer heart-related problems and less money spent on drugs to deal with those problems.

Less stress, which brings down blood pressure, heart rate, as well as other parameters associated with improved health.

Less obesity. The incidence of obesity for active dog owners is 5 percent lower than for non-owners, which translates to an estimated 1 million fewer cases of obesity in the U.S. than there would be without dogs. With obesity comes a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses, along with more pain and debilitation from diseases like arthritis.

Interestingly, while the Human Animal Bond Initiative was behind this research, the term “human-animal bond” was effectively non-existent until the late 1970s. But since then, there have been rapid gains in our knowledge of the various physical — as well as psychological — benefits that come with dog-human togetherness. Even in 1980, a seminal study showed a relationship between pet ownership and long-term survival after a heart attack. Other research has indicated that nursing home residents who have contact with pets have a much lower rate of infection from bacteria that are resistant to multiple drugs, saving both lives and the money it costs to treat stubborn infections. The implication is that pet ownership literally boosts immunity.

Some research even suggests that exposure to dogs (and cats) early in life reduces the risk that the child will have an allergy to pets by the age of 18.

The bottom line: the next time Franklin (or our shiba inu Rosie) comes down with an illness that’s expensive to treat, I’ll keep in mind just how much they and their canine brethren are saving in human health care costs. It’s a very, very sweet deal.

Happy tails to you,

Lawrence Lindner
Executive Editor

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