- Two-thirds of dog owners walked their dogs and saw the health benefits
- Scientists revealed owning a cat or dog cuts risk of cognitive decline for all
Owning a cat or dog can bring immeasurable joy and companionship.
But it could also slow your rate of cognitive decline as you get older – especially if you walk the dog – a study suggests.
Everyone experiences declines in mental abilities such as learning, thinking, problem solving, memory and reasoning as they age, even if they don’t have dementia.
But some are able to maintain good cognitive abilities well into older age – and researchers set out to discover whether owning pets may have a benefit.
The team, from the University of Maryland in the US, examined data on 637 participants aged between 51 and 101.
Although the cognitive function declined over a decade for all participants, this was slower for those that owned cats or dogs
In total, nearly a third owned pets with 11 per cent owning cats and 13 per cent owning dogs.
Analysis revealed that, over a decade, cognitive function declined for all participants as they aged.
However, this decline was slower for those who owned cats or dogs compared to non-pet owners.
Two-thirds of dog owners reported walking their dogs – and this group experienced even slower cognitive decline than dog owners who did not walk their pet.
Writing in the journal Scientific Reports the authors said: ‘The current study provides important longitudinal evidence for the contribution of pet ownership to the maintenance of cognitive function in generally healthy community-residing older adults as they age.
‘Older adult pet owners experienced less decline in cognitive function as they aged, after considering both their pre-existing health and age.
‘Memory, executive function, language function, psychomotor speed, and processing speed deteriorated less over 10 years among pet owners than among non-owners and among dog owners than non-owners.
‘Cat owners experienced less deterioration in memory and language function. Dog walking also was associated with slower deterioration in cognitive function.’
Previous studies have shown that pets can provide social support, and that interacting with them can lower blood pressure and heart rate.
The researchers said other explanations could be that pet owners are less stressed, are more relaxed and have an external focus for attention.
Owning dogs can also lead to an increase in physical activity through their need to be taken out for daily exercise, which is known to be beneficial for health, they added.
‘Policy makers can use these findings to support inclusion of pets in care plans, designing housing and neighbourhoods for seniors that are friendly for dog walking, and developing programs to support pet ownership,’ they wrote.