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Wednesday, 8 September, 1999, 08:48 GMT
Pets could save NHS 1bn a year
cat
Research suggests pets have a therapeutic effect
Pets could help cap the ever-increasing costs of the NHS, according to animal specialists.

The Society of Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) said the therapeutic effects of being with a cat, a dog or another animal could benefit patients ranging from children with cancer to the elderly and save the NHS 1bn a year.

It has called on health authorities, landlords and the government to make it easier for people to own pets.

And on Wednesday a one-day conference in London heard from specialists extolling the health benefits of pet power.

Healthier life

They point to studies suggesting that in Australia pet ownership has saved the health service 900m a year while dog and cat ownership in Germany is said to have saved 4.9bn.

The research showed that pet owners make fewer visits to their doctor each year, suffer fewer sleeping difficulties and are less likely to be taking medicine for a heart condition.

Some psychologists say pets can help disturbed children and people suffering dementia - although others say having too many pets is a sign of a psychiatric disorder.

A spokeswoman for SCAS said: "We are now doing research into the potential cost savings for this country but if you apply the same principals to the UK as people have done to other countries, it comes out at about 1bn a year."

Disturbed children

Dr Sam Ross launched a rehabilitation project in the US which uses pet therapy with severely disturbed youngsters

He said doctors and politicians should realise the health benefits of animals.

"Pets are a vastly under-used resource in the health care field and we need to change that," he said.

"They can speed up recovery rates which obviously helps the patient and saves money.

"With physically injured adults and children they can help in the physiotherapy and rehabilitation stages.

Independence

"A patient may be screaming with pain on a physio bench but if you put a horse in front of them and get them riding they forget about the pain and start enjoying their treatment.

"Patients who are disabled, for instance in wheelchairs, can benefit from having a dog about the house who can help them maintain their independence and give them something to relate to and focus on.

"Often physically disabled people or the elderly cannot get out much and don't have anything to do - pets can help them to enjoy life and that can mean cuts in the costs of home helps and healthcare."

Any animal could help, he said, whether it was a bird, cat, dog, fish or horse.

Mary Whylam, chairwoman of SCAS said: "We will continue to urge the UK authorities to take a holistic view of the value of companion animals in society - particularly in light of recent studies which indicate that pets could ease national health expenditure and provide the answer to a longer, happier and healthier life."
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