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Pets Offer Health and Emotional Upsides for Seniors

A study by the National Institutes of Health indicates that pet ownership just might be the right prescription for companionship, affection and loneliness, the Journal Star reports. With more than 40 percent of Americans age 65 and older live in households with pets this is good news.

Together, U.S. pet owners spend more than $60 billion on their pets each year, but this may be peanuts compared to what they give back to you. There's no price that can be put on a pet's love and companionship, of course, but there are more concrete benefits that can be monetarily measured, if you’re counting health dollars.

For example, researchers from George Mason University conducted a study for The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation, which found Americans save $11.7 billion annually in health care costs due to pet ownership. Broken down, pet owners — 132.8 million in all — visited a doctor 0.6 times less than non-pet owners.

The study found the average cost of a doctor visit is $139, which led to savings of $11.37 billion annually in health care costs. About 20 million dog owners also walked their pet five or more times a week, which led to even greater benefits.

The extra pet-related activity lowered the incidence of obesity in this group, leading to another $419 million in health care savings. With children, dog ownership has been found to reduce anxiety. Additionally, children with type 1 diabetes who actively cared for a family pet were 2.5 times more likely to have control over their glycemic levels than children who did not.
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