The Other Benefit of Owning a Pet
Pet-lovers may not realise that their dog, cat or ferret is actually helping the government to save money.
Studies have shown that owning a pet is good for the health of families and individuals, but recent data show that the broader community also benefits. Pet owners contribute billions of dollars in savings by placing less demand on the public healthcare system.
The Healthcare Economics of Pets, a report commissioned by Blue Green Economics and released in July 2017, reported that Australian pet owners save $700 in individual healthcare costs and about $2 billion in public health expenditure every year.
Advocates for pet ownership believe that policy-makers should offer tax breaks to people who own pets. In a media release on 31 July 2017, Dr Chris Brown, veterinarian and ambassador for Keep Australia Pet Friendly said,
“This research is a wakeup call for policy makers to acknowledge the broader benefits of pet ownership. If governments can recognise pet owners for making smart choices for their health through incentives like a tax rebate or offset, the return on investment could be huge.”
Pet owners visit health professionals less frequently, take fewer medications and often need less support from social security. Their healthy status may continue into older age, helping them to stay employed and pay tax.
Pets give a sense of responsibility and purpose to isolated, elderly and recently bereaved people, which support good mental well-being. Simply stroking a pet induces the “love hormone” oxytocin which creates calm and eases anxiety. This helps to reduce high blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Health benefits are often more pronounced in dog owners because they tend to exercise and socialise more. Physiotherapist and puppy owner, Lauren Young has noticed that her physically active patients usually own a dog. “So many people are walked by dogs. I just had a patient in recently, she has an 8-month old puppy and she walks her dog twice a day. And I have a lady who is pregnant and that’s her main form of exercise; she walks her dog 45 minutes to an hour every day.”
However, for many people who live or work where pets are prohibited, a tax break alone would not be sufficient incentive to becoming a pet-owner. The community should also be supportive. Councils, cafés, apartments, workplaces and public transport must create an environment that welcomes animals, and pet-owning patrons must be responsible for their pet’s behaviour.
Lauren will be training her Labrador puppy before taking her to work. “The clinic owner sometimes takes her dog to work. The clients seem to love it. It’s the oxytocin activity.”
Nearly half of Australian households have at least one pet and it can be expensive paying for pet food, veterinarian visits, training and grooming.
If economic projections are realised and the pet population increases by 10% per year, then the public health system will save over $200 million. With pet-owner incentives, community and stakeholder support, the savings could be even greater.
Dr Brown said, “Keeping Australia pet friendly is an issue of national importance. I hope the government can see the value in spending a little, to save a lot.” FAY BAHEMIA B.Sc., Grad. Dip. Food Sci. & Tech., Cert IV Prof Writing & Editing Health & Medical Science Writer firstname.lastname@example.org www.healthsciencewriter.com.au