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News Article

Report estimates benefits of pets to the UK economy and society

Study 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.

The beneficial impact that companion animals can have on people is recognised, but measuring what that impact is and expressing it in economic terms is more complex. However, this is the aim of a new report, Companion Animal Economics, written by internationally respected animal welfare and business experts.

Published by CABI, the report was developed by Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln, and Dr Sandra McCune, Human-Animal Interaction expert at Mars Petcare’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition. Viewed as a critical piece of work in the mission to drive a broader understanding of pets’ ability to make a better world for us all, 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.

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 Companion Animal Economics. The updated report has attempted, where it is possible, to put economic values to the benefits, and also the problems attributed to companion animals.

The negative impact of companion animals includes animal abandonment, animal waste (fouling), zoonotic diseases, and accidents (including animal bites). The average cost for dealing with an abandoned cat is £353 and approximately £700 for a dog. It is estimated that there are around 50,000 dogs abandoned each year and more than 45,000 cats. Companion animals produce some 3000 tonnes of waste a day, although the report states that legislation has greatly reduced the fouling in public places. The number of cases of the main zoonotic disease from companion animals has declined since 1988, but there are still some 30 zoonotic diseases carried by dogs, including food poisoning. The role of companion animals in transmitting antibiotic resistant infections is a cause for concern, but hard to quantify. An easier problem to measure is the number of bites from animals. These seem to have decreased since 1988 from up to 200,000 animal bites a year to just over 10,000 reported in 2013-2014. Taking the number of bites that require medical treatment, it is estimated that costs to the health service from bites are at least £3 million a year (and may be as high as £10 million a year). Dogs can also cause road accidents, although these figures are much lower in 2004 (254 and 1 fatality), compared with in 1988 (75,000 and 23 fatalities).

The list of benefits from companion animals is much longer. Owning a pet, particularly a dog, improves survival rate following a heart attack and appears to improve survival from breast cancer. Health benefits of owning include the lowering of blood pressure (individuals with a positive attitude to companion animals had lower blood pressure levels than those with a negative attitude). Pet ownership is also linked to lower levels of allergic rhinitis, asthma, and eczema in infants. Dog ownership increases the amount of physical exercise that people take, with the health benefits that that brings. Dog walking also reduces social isolation, which is a major contributor to mental health.

It is in the area of mental health that animals may have their largest impact. Mental health problems affect up to one in four people at some time in their life, and the increase in people living alone will probably increase this figure. Individuals owning companion animals appear to have better psychological well-being, with companion animal owners reporting greater happiness and health compared to non-owners. Companion animals can reduce anxiety in families, and can have beneficial effects in families with autistic children, and with coping with life events such as bereavement. Pet owners also tend to have fewer visits to the doctor for medical problems.

In the UK, based on 2013 health expenditure figures, the saving due to the existence of companion animals was £2.45 billion. This is an approximate but conservative estimate, and does not include other benefits such as fewer days off work. This figure is significantly large to draw the attention of public health policy makers. There are many other ways in which animals contribute to health, such as with therapy dogs, hearing dogs, dogs for the blind, and classroom dogs.

The authors conclude that there is overwhelming evidence that companion animals have a significant economic impact on the economy, but because it is hard to measure all of the components of this, so the scale remains uncertain. Certainly the economic benefits that companion animals bring to society greatly outweigh the costs of the harmful effects. The authors recommend the need to explore the savings that could be made to government spending through low cost interventions such as the greater exploitation of the value of companion animals in society.

Report: Companion Animal Economics: The Economic Impact of Companion Animals in the UK by Sophie Hall, Luke Dolling, Katie Bristow, Ted Fuller and Daniel S. Mills. CABI, Wallingford, UK, ISBN: 9781786391728, published December 2016

Article details

  • Date
  • 06 December 2016
  • Subject(s)
  • Veterinary medicine