Most of us who work in the petfood industry think of it not only as our vocation but also our passion; we all own and love pets and genuinely care about their well-being. So we know first-hand the benefits that sharing a home (or office) with a pet can bring.
For most people, such anecdotal evidence and experience is enough in terms of believing in the power of the human-animal bond. But growing pet ownership means needing to convince other people of that power -- and convincing governments and other organizations that the bond can convey mental and physical benefits that, in the long run, can keep people healthier and lower health care costs.
Wait: Isn't that quite a stretch? The concept that having a dog, cat, rabbit or fish tank around can lower costs? Not when you consider the types of diseases being fought around the world -- especially in developed societies, where the numbers of cases keep rising -- and the extremely high costs of treating them. Prime examples include autism, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
For example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one out of 50 US children now has a disorder on the autism spectrum. Parents of these children will go to any lengths to help them. Fortunately, pets might lend some help. A study conducted by Marguerite O’Haire, a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland in Australia, shows that social behaviors increased in children with autism in the presence of guinea pigs; the increase was more positive than when the children played with toys.
The study results are available thanks to the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) and its online research portal, HABRI Central. Established in 2010 by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) and pet industry companies and retailers such as Petco, HABRI is a national, nonprofit foundation "dedicated to achieving widespread recognition of the positive role animals play in the health and well-being of humans, families and communities," according to the organization's vision. Its mission is to support research and education to facilitate that recognition of the human-animal bond.
HABRI Central was developed in 2012 as an online platform for open research and collaboration into the relationships between humans and companion animals. To date, it has amassed an impressive amount of research. In fact, just a year after its launch, Bob Vetere, president of HABRI and APPA, announced the extensive collection and organization of research into how pets are bringing positive benefits in seven key areas of human health:
- Allergy and asthma immunity among children
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Exactly some of the diseases that are increasing the fastest in incidence and costing the most to treat. Besides the study on autism already mentioned, other research compiled by HABRI Central shows that contact with companion animals can have physical benefits to those with post-traumatic stress disorder such as the release of oxytocin and endorphins in the brain; pets can have a protective effect for young children from allergies later in life; and patients who own a pet have a better survival rate of recovering from heart surgery.
If you're interested in learning more, or perhaps supporting HABRI's efforts, I encourage you to browse some of the interesting work and information available on HABRI Central. Also, Vetere will be the closing keynote speaker at Petfood Forum on April 17 and present information on research conducted and compiled to date.