More and more experts and entities seem to think so. About this time last year, global petfood giant Mars Petcare announced that its Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition was teaming up with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study whether animals have a tangible effect on children's well-being.
In fact, NIH recently issued a "funding opportunity announcement" -- government-speak for a grant application -- for the study of the impact of human-animal interaction on child health and development.
Its involvement is nothing new for the Waltham Centre, which Mars says "conducts and funds extensive research into the study of human-animal interaction." Just last week Mars unveiled its latest initiative, Power of Pets, a collaboration with YMCAs in five US cities to promote the benefits of pet ownership to human health. The project even has its own Facebook page.
Along with Power of Pets, Mars also released results of a study of 1,000 US pet owners on exercising with pets and other aspects of health and well-being they believe their pets confer. Highlights include:
- Improving their overall well-being was the main reason respondents gave for having a pet, with 66% choosing it; 61% also said they owned pets because they wanted the companionship.
- Half of the respondents said it's more important to maintain a positive relationship with their pet than with their best friend. Women were more likely to say this than men, 53% to 46%.
- 95% said they have a very strong emotional connection to their pet, and 63% said they're extremely attached to their pet. Again, women were more likely to be extremely attached than men, 69% to 56%.
- Respondents reported a gamut of positive emotions associated with their pets, such as happiness (83%), love (70%), calmness (65%), excitement (31%) and even invigoration (18%).
- 36% of pet owners ages 18-44 admitted quality time with their pet excites them, compared to 22% of those 45 and older.
You might be thinking right about now: Of course a huge company like Mars can throw its vast resources behind research in this area. But it's not alone. Recently the American Pet Products Association (APPA), which represents hundreds of petfood (and other pet) companies of varying sizes, announced a similar initiative. APPA is partnering with Dr. Alan Beck at Purdue University to launch the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) with the main goals of creating a central database for all research on the topic and encouraging the US Congress to provide resources to NIH so it can allocate money toward such research.
For people in an industry like petfood, all of this may seem like preaching to the choir. In the September issue of Pet Business magazine, Bob Vetere, president of APPA, made the case: ... "The fastest growing demographic in the US population (Hispanic, Black, Asian and children) represent some of the lower incidences of pet ownership. Left unchecked, this does not bode well for such a vibrant industry. HABRI is one very positive way to address this trend."