Mason researchers find pet ownership saves $11.7 billion in health care costs

The health benefits of pet ownership for humans are well documented, but a new study by George Mason University researchers illustrates the considerable impact of pets on the U.S. health care system.

Pets save an estimated $11.7 billion a year in health care savings, according to new figures by George Mason’s Terry Clower. Clower, director of Mason’s Center for Regional Analysis, co-wrote the report with Tonya Neaves, managing director of Mason’s Centers on the Public Service. Both are in the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs.

“There was abundant research to show that pets have a positive effect on our health, but this is the first time that anyone has looked at the impact on the U.S. health care system,” said Clower. “Our analysis shows that pet ownership produces meaningful savings for total health care costs in the United States.”

A major revelation in the study was the difference between doctor’s office visits by pet owners and those who do not own pets. The nation’s 132.8 million pet owners visit a doctor 0.6 times less than average non-pet owners, the report says. With an average cost of a doctor visit at $139, pet owners save $11.37 billion in health care costs.

Walking a dog five or more times a week isn’t just good for the walker, who receives

fitness benefits from the activity, but it’s also good for the nation’s budgetary waistline: Those 20 million dog walkers are responsible for saving some $419 million in health care costs, mostly related to a lower incidence of obesity.

Other benefits of pet ownership include such positive physical and mental health outcomes as lower stress, improved cardiovascular health, enhanced sense of well-being, and reduced allergic sensitivities, among others.

According to the report, “because this analysis is limited and conservative, the health care cost savings associated with pet ownership is likely to be even greater.”

The study was funded by the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation, a nonprofit research and education organization founded by the American Pet Products Association, Zoetis and Petco.