The Coolest New Work Perk Is Actually For Your Pets

The benefits arms race has reached adorable new levels.

From health and dental insurance to in-house massages and nap pods, more companies are recognizing that a great employee benefits package is one of the best ways to attract and retain talent. As these packages become more competitive and creative, a new work-perks trend has emerged. The New York Times reports that more than 5,000 companies (including Microsoft, Yahoo, and Xerox) are now offering pet insurance in their packages.

Pet insurance might sound like a non-essential benefit, but it’s actually a highly valuable perk. Almost 65 percent of American households have a pet, and sick or injured pets can cost more than you’d think. The American Pet Products Association projects that Americans will spend just over $17 billion on their pets’ veterinary care this year, according a statistic cited by the New York Times. These expenses cover everything from chemotherapy to kidney transplants. “Pets today occupy a special place in people’s lives,” private-practice veterinarian Dr. Tracey Jensen told the New York Times. “They’re family members, and their owners don’t want to cut corners on care.”

On an interesting note, pet care isn’t as PC as human care. Essentially, certain dog breeds are treated as pre-existing conditions. According to New York Times writer Susan Jenks, “Many pet insurance companies charge more for breeds prone to certain medical conditions, like cancers or heart disease; a large dog, like a Great Dane, will cost more to insure than a Chihuahua.”

Companies that include pet insurance in their perks aren’t the first to recognize that pets are invaluable to people’s wellbeing. A study published last month found that children were better able to handle stressful events and had lower levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol when they had a pet by their side. An earlier study suggests that furry friends can also help reduce depression, and a 2015 study found that more than 40 percent of people who allowed their pets to sleep in their rooms reported better sleep quality. Pets are also linked to more successful romantic endeavors; in a study published last year, pet owners reported having stronger romantic relationships than non-pet owners.

Recognizing the strong bonds that people have with their pets, as well as the slew of health benefits that come with a pawed pal, pet insurance may even top Google’s in-house chef in terms of the perks that really make a difference to employees.

Read the full New York Times article here.