Critter Corner: New Research Shows How Having Pets Helps Promote Healthy Aging and Prevent Cognitive Decline

Dear Angel,

I’ve been living alone for the past five years and I’m thinking of getting a pet to keep me company. I’ve heard about benefits of having a pet, but didn’t realize that there were cognitive benefits as well. What are the cognitive and other benefits of having a pet for a senior like myself?

Thanks for your help!

Anita Pupp

Dear Anita,

Successful aging doesn’t just mean adding years to your life. It also means adding life to your years! Pets are helpful in healthy aging because they encourage us to get up and move; they make us laugh, provide comfort and offer affection. They can even help us meet new friends and get to know our neighbors. In fact, multiple research studies show that sharing our lives with pets can provide physical, social and emotional benefits for all ages, including older adults.

Also, as you mentioned, pet ownership and regular contact with pets are associated with better cognitive status compared with those who did not own pets, according to a recent study. Dog ownership was related to better physical function, as well.

Here’s a look at additional evidence-based benefits that pets provide for healthy aging:

  • Pets may reduce social isolation and loneliness: According to recent U.S. market research by HABRI, 80% of pet owners say their pet makes them feel less lonely. Nearly 89% of those who got a pet because they were lonely felt their pet helped them feel less lonely.
  • 25% of all pet parents surveyed said they got a pet to improve their mental health: In the group of people aged 55 and older, more than half said they did so for the mental health benefits.
  • Pet owners experienced stronger neighborhood connections and were consistently more likely to report social benefits, such as helpfulness, friendliness and trust between neighbors. A study of homebound seniors, found that those who owned pets were better at attentiveness, remembering details, and learning from past experiences than those who didn’t.
  • Pets have also been found to improve mental wellbeing by reducing feelings of depression.
  • Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and better overall heart health.
  • Owning a dog has a positive effect on their humans’ overall exercise levels (even beyond dog walking) – a recommended part of any healthy lifestyle.
  • Research published in the American Heart Association’s medical journal found an association between dog ownership and owners’ lower mortality risk. One of the studies shows dog owners living alone had a 33% lower risk of dying after suffering a heart attack, and a 27% lower risk of dying following a stroke, compared to non-owners.
  • Research has also found that older adults who owned dogs or cats in the past were less likely to become frail over a two year period than people who had never owned those pets.

Even if owning a pet isn’t possible, older adults can still enjoy the company of animals by fostering, volunteering at local shelters, pet sitting, and visiting friends with pets or cat cafes!

If you have a pet, don’t forget to plan for who is going to take care of your furry friends upon your death or incapacity.

Hope this is helpful!


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

Leave a comment

Thank you for your upload