'People & Pets' idea could save the NHS £2.5b a year
Greater collaboration between disciplines to promote the One Health approach for people and pets will help public health services in Europe make significant cost savings, experts said at Purina’s ‘Better with Pets’ European Forum in Brussels, Belgium.
The One Health approach is a concept that recognises the integrative effort of multiple initiatives working locally, nationally and globally to achieve optimal health for people, animals and the environment. Its methodology seeks to understand the interactions between humans and animals when it comes to health and wellbeing.
During a series of panel discussions, experts in the animal and human relationship outlined the huge benefits that pets can have to public health.
Citing a recent study, Professor Daniel Mills, a well-known international authority on companion animal behaviour, cognition and welfare, said that pet ownership can help save the NHS £2.5 billion a year. Animal assisted activities and therapy (AAT), where animals are involved as a way of improving social, emotional and cognative functioning, supporting recovery and rehabilitation, can play an important role in this cost saving also.
Professor Mills noted that pets have been shown to reduce anxiety in those with autism, while also easing the stress levels of parents and carers.
Professor Mills said, “While these numbers are not perfect, there is definitely something there that the public health and pet care community needs to pay attention to. The benefits of responsible pet ownership are clear. I’ve seen pets have dramatic effects on autistic children.
"Understanding the subtleties and nuances of how people and pets work together is vitally important for the well-being of both, and has the potential to make a massive difference to public health. But it is crucial that the industry is given an opportunity to analyse this further. Ignoring the evidence is a far greater problem than dismissing the research as being at an early stage.”
Attendees at the event heard an example of AAT in practice at the Sant Joan de Déu-Barcelona hospital in Spain where a functional unit has been in operation for the past six years. Here, sick children receive AAT on the advice of a doctor, both in the emergency room and on an inpatient basis. The hospital reports that the dogs help the children to have a better life and cope more effectively with their illnesses. Purina called on the public health community to recognise the advantages of AAT and to play an active part in supporting this vital element of public health care.
The panel – which also included Andrea Meisser, Vice-President of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on the Human-Animal Relationship, Ruud Tombrock, Director for the Europe Region of World Animal Protection, and Andrea Gavinelli, Head of Unit at the European Commission’s Health and food safety Directorate General – noted that while the benefits of the bond between people and pets are widely felt, they are sometimes hard to quantify empirically.
Professor Mills noted that it can be challenging for researchers to have papers accepted by journals or funding bodies, making it difficult for policymakers to promote the benefits of pets for public health. The panel agreed that greater partnership between all disciplines – from researchers to veterinarians and policymakers – was crucial to advancing the understanding of the public health benefits of pets and people.
Discussing how policymakers could play a part in promoting the One Health approach, Gavanelli called on the pet care community to work together to provide scientific examples and data highlighting economic and social benefits. He also noted that policymakers in Europe had an important part to play by taking a holistic approach to the issue.
The discussion was part of Purina’s first ever ‘Better with Pets’ European Forum that brought experts together to share their opinions and draw attention to issues surrounding pets’ role in society.