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Human Animal Interaction

Pets estimated to save UK National Health Service up to £2.45 billion a year

New report quantifies economic benefits of UK pets

6th December 2016: Pets account for millions of pounds worth of economic activity in the UK and may reduce National Health Service (NHS) costs by nearly two and a half billion pounds, according to a new report published today. Drawing on multiple sources, and written by internationally respected animal welfare and business experts, "Companion Animal Economics" comprehensively documents the economic impact of pets in the UK - the first time such an assessment has been made for nearly 40 years. The study directly examines available evidence on the direct and indirect benefits and costs of companion animals to society, including their influence on human mental and physical health, illness prevention and well-being.

Published by CABI, the report was developed by Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln UK, and Dr Sandra McCune, Human-Animal Interaction expert at Mars Petcare’s WALTHAM™ Centre for Pet Nutrition. Mars Petcare UK provided sponsorship towards the cost of producing the report. Other authors include Dr Sophie Hall from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, Professor Ted Fuller and Luke Dolling from the Lincoln International Business School, and Katie Bristow-Wade of Dogs for Good.

“Vets are well aware how important companion animals are to their owners, but it is important that they appreciate the impact that they can have on the physical, mental and social health of both individuals and society more widely,” says Professor Mills. “This book should help raise awareness of this and their economic importance in times of economic uncertainty.”

First major study since 1988

“Almost half of households in the UK share their homes with animals cared for as companions – a relationship we consider to be valuable and enriching,” says Dr McCune. ‘This important report provides a modern-day update on the impact of companion animals on the UK economy and society, without reducing the discussion to a simplistic cost-benefit ratio. Critically, it aims to raise awareness of the need for research to evaluate the complex routes by which pets make an economic impact on UK society.”

Relatively little information on the economic impact of pets has been published since the 1988 seminal Council for Science and Society (CSS) report on companion animals in society, which inspired the current report. Since then, trends in pet ownership, and associated industries have changed a great deal. The report’s methodology sought to capture this new context, including issues like pet tourism, pet obesity, and expanding veterinary services, identifying clear gaps where further high-quality data and additional research are needed.

Costs as well as benefits

The authors considered both the positive and negative contributions of companion animals to the UK economy. For instance, the cost of NHS treatment for bites and strikes from dogs is estimated at £10 million per year. At the same time, the report also estimates that pet ownership in the UK may reduce the use of the UK health service by up to £2.45 billion per year. This conservative conclusion is drawn through examining healthcare savings through a reduced number of doctor visits.

Given the scale of the potential impact, the report concludes that research into companion animals and their economic impact on society needs further investigation and should be supported by the government. While UK data were used in the report, many of the points raised relate to other industrialised nations, demonstrating the global nature of this issue.