A Bond Worth Boosting

The human-animal bond is good for you, good for animals and good for business.



If you make, sell or distribute pet products and services, you are part of a growing industry with a strong business outlook for 2016 and beyond. Why is it growing and why should you be optimistic about the future? While there are many factors, a one-word answer is “love.” People love their pets, and most of us believe that our pets love us back—that’s the human-animal bond. This relationship is a key driver of rising pet industry spending, as people want to take good care of their beloved companion animals.

It stands to reason that the pet industry should nurture and strengthen the human-animal bond in society as a smart business strategy. That’s where the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation comes in. HABRI funds high-quality scientific research to demonstrate that pets are good for human health and animal welfare. While many of us and most pet owners may already feel that this is true, putting real science behind these claims can pay off in important ways.

It turns out that we can measure the benefits of loving our pets. We can show that you will have a healthier heart if you have a pet. In fact, it’s been shown that you are more likely to survive a heart attack if you have a cat. We can also show that pets are key to healthy aging, increasing our sense of wellbeing and improving our social support systems. And for children with autism and veterans with post-traumatic stress, we can increasingly show the profound benefits of companion animals. 

The health benefits of pets can also be measured in dollars. HABRI’s analysis shows that pet ownership saves the U.S. healthcare system more than $11.7 billion. This preliminary research is based on the fact that pet owners visit the doctor less frequently, and dog walkers are less likely to be obese. This is the first time that this figure has been calculated in the United States, and that number is likely to grow as we conduct additional research on the many other ways that pets improve health.

Pets and animal welfare can benefit from this research as much as people. A majority of pet owners already view their pets as members of the family. As they come to understand the importance of pets to their health, they will take even better care of them and be even more likely to get additional pets. Potential pet owners will also have a stronger reason to bring animals into their lives, overcoming barriers to acquiring a pet. 

Think about Millennials as they start families and consider getting a pet. The knowledge that they can boost the health of their children by having pets can be strong motivation. For Baby Boomers with empty nests who are thinking about how a pet might fit into their lifestyle as they age, the knowledge that pets contribute to their physical and mental health has the power to be equally persuasive.

While all this may make you and millions of pet owners feel good, what does it mean for business? The answer is simple—widespread knowledge of the health benefits of pets will increase spending over the long term. For example, according to a 2014 Packaged Facts report, the “human/animal bond is one of the most important factors behind pet owners’ willingness to spend generously on pet health products and services.”

In addition, the scientific evidence of the health benefits of pets will influence public policy. As the importance of pets to our health becomes well understood, everything from housing policy to public accommodations to urban planning will be more geared toward pet ownership. And, when it comes to public health policy, HABRI is pushing for both government and insurance companies to incentivize pet ownership as part of a healthy lifestyle in the same way that they encourage a healthy diet or physical fitness.

Great, but your day is already full as you work hard to make sure your pet industry business is successful. What can you really do with this information? 
HABRI makes it easy. You can contribute to HABRI to support its significant research and education efforts (it is also tax deductible). Of equal importance, you can deliver the human-animal bond message to your customers, business partners and employees. The more people know about the health benefits of pet ownership, the more your company will benefit. It turns out that loving our pets really is good for us, good for the animals, and good business strategy.

Steven Feldman is executive director for the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation. For more information, visit habri.org


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