Study: Having pets helps slow cognitive decline among the elderly

Some people own pets for companionship or because they need a guard dog. But regardless of the reason for having a pet, a study has found that having a pet like a cat or a dog can help slow cognitive decline among older adults.

According to the study, owning pets for at least five years or longer may offer benefits for brain health.

Benefits of the human-animal bond

Dr. Tiffany Braley, one of the study authors from the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, explained that earlier studies have found that the human-animal bond may offer health benefits like “decreasing blood pressure and stress.”

She added that the study’s results suggest that pet ownership may also help protect against cognitive decline.

For the study, researchers analyzed cognitive data from 1,369 older adults with an average age of 65. At the start of the study, they noted that the volunteers had normal cognitive skills.

At least 53 percent of the volunteers owned pets and 32 percent were long-term pet owners, which the researchers defined as people who owned pets for five years or longer. Out of all the volunteers, 88 percent were white, seven percent were Black, two percent were Hispanic and three percent were of another ethnicity or race.

The scientists studied data from the Health and Retirement Study, a large study of Medicare beneficiaries. In that study, volunteers were given multiple cognitive tests.

The research team used those cognitive tests to develop a composite cognitive score for each person, ranging from zero to 27.


The composite score included common tests of numeric counting, subtraction and word recall. The experts used the participants’ composite cognitive scores and estimated the potential links between years of pet ownership and cognitive function. (Related: Dogs saving the food supply? Trained dogs used to sniff out disease destroying citrus trees in Florida, California and Texas.)

Over six years, the researchers found that cognitive scores decreased at a slower rate among pet owners. Data also showed that the difference was strongest in long-term pet owners.

After considering other factors known to affect cognitive function, the results revealed that, on average, long-term pet owners had a cognitive composite score that was 1.2 points higher at six years compared to non-pet owners. The scientists also discovered that the cognitive benefits linked to longer pet ownership were stronger for Black adults, college-educated adults and men.

“Since stress can negatively affect cognitive function, the potential stress-buffering effects of pet ownership could offer a plausible reason for the study findings,” Braley said. “A companion animal can also help increase physical activity, which could then benefit cognitive health.”

She added that further study can help shed more light on the possible reasons for these links.

Other health benefits of having pets

Aside from helping you stay more active, here are the other health benefits of having pets like cats and dogs:

Pets promote social connectedness

A dog has to be walked regularly and this helps you interact and engage with your community on a regular basis.

If you are shy, pets can also function as social icebreakers. This can be helpful if you are an introvert and have difficulty starting a conversation with new people.

Pets may help prevent loneliness

Having a pet can help someone deal with loneliness, especially if you live alone or work remotely. Being a pet owner can also help improve your mental health.

Data from a 2019 report by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute and Mars Petcare also found that 80 percent of pet owners said their pet made them feel less lonely.

Watch the video below for 12 signs that your pet needs help or is in pain.

This video is from the When Animals Attack channel on

More related stories:

Pet care 101: How to deal with a dog that’s a picky eater.

Prepping with pets: 27 Plants that are poisonous to dogs.

Eliminate your pet’s inflammation with this natural DIY dog treat.

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