Better pet feeding and care are among the positive outcomes of a growing awareness in pet parents that pet ownership benefits human health, according to a survey recently released by the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI). While this finding may seem like common sense, the survey uncovered key points that might help pet food companies in connecting with today’s pet owners.
Specifically, when educated on scientific research about the health benefits of owning pets, 88 percent of respondents are more likely to provide their pets with high-quality pet nutrition, and 92 percent are more likely to maintain their pets’ health, including staying current on vaccinations and preventive medicine, with 89 percent also more likely to take their pets for regular veterinary checkups. (The survey, conducted for HABRI by the Cohen Research Group, was conducted online among 2,000 pet owners, presumably in the US.)
Further, pet owners educated on scientific research about the human-animal bond are 74 percent less likely to give up their pets for any reason, which could have important implications for the pet food and pet care industries as pet-loving, high-spending Baby Boomers age into a period of their lives when pet ownership has traditionally declined. A previous study supported by HABRI showed that pet ownership in the US accounts for US$11.7 billion savings in human health care costs, a significant finding for older people whose incomes often decrease. Knowledge about health benefits of pet ownership, combined with lower health care costs, could prove a real boost for living with pets as long as possible.
Knowing about the science
As with so many areas, research and education about that research are key, and that’s where HABRI comes in. Formed in 2010 to gather, fund and share scientific research demonstrating the positive health impacts of companion animals, the organization to date has funded more than US$500,000 in studies and created the world’s largest library of human-animal interaction science, it says.
Its efforts appear to be paying off, along with those of all the organizations and experts actually doing the research and other necessary work. The recent survey showed that 71 percent of pet owners have heard about scientific research demonstrating that pet ownership can help physical or mental health in people. What’s more, pet owners are aware of the positive effects that being around pets has on:
- Reducing stress (88 percent awareness), depression (86 percent) and anxiety (84 percent);
- Increasing our sense of well-being (81 percent);
- Helping humans with conditions such as PTSD in war veterans (80 percent), autism (65 percent) and Alzheimer’s disease (56 percent);
- Supporting healthy aging (68 percent);
- Supporting child cognitive development and reading skills (47 percent) and classroom learning (45 percent);
- Helping prevent childhood allergies (32 percent).
Most pet owners in the survey also reported enjoying health benefits from living with pets, including improved mental health in themselves (74 percent) or friends or family (75 percent) and improved physical health for themselves (54 percent) or friends or family (55 percent). Tying back to older pet owners and the importance of awareness of research on the human-animal bond, the survey showed a generational influence, with 83 percent of Baby Boomers and 82 percent of the Greatest Generation saying they had experienced improved mental health. That compares with 62 percent of Millennials and 72 percent of Gen X pet owners.
In other areas, the millennial pull is stronger. For example, among pet owners educated on the scientific research on pet ownership, 78 percent of Millennials are more likely to purchase pet health insurance vs. 51 percent of pet owners overall, and 74 percent of Millennials are more likely to get an additional pet (only 49 percent of all pet owners say this).
Millennials are also more likely to expect their veterinarians and policymakers to know about the health benefits of pet ownership: 77 percent would have a more favorable view of their vets if they discussed those benefits (vs. 66 percent of all pet owners), and 74 percent of Millennials said they would be more likely to take their pets to their vets if they discussed the benefits (vs. 61 percent overall). Millennial pet owners believe the government should help make pet ownership more affordable, at 83 percent vs. 69 percent of pet owners overall; and 74 percent of Millennials agree employers should consider allowing employees to bring pets to work (vs. 58 percent overall).
I imagine we can expect veterinarians to be or get on board more quickly than governmental bodies or employers, but at least most pet owners are there. The more they understand and appreciate how good their pets are for them, the better for everyone—especially the pets themselves.