Furry Friends For A Healthy Mind: The Brain Benefits Of Pet Ownership

happy mood with pets

Having a pet can bring about numerous advantages for our social, emotional, and physical well-being. It turns out that these benefits extend to our cognitive abilities as well. New studies indicate that pets can have a positive impact on our brain health by enhancing our overall happiness, promoting social connections, and reducing stress levels.

How Do Pets Affect Your Brain?

According to a recent study presented at an American Academy of Neurology annual meeting, having a furry friend for the long haul could actually help slow down memory loss and other cognitive decline. The research suggests that owning a pet can be especially helpful for improving verbal memory, like remembering word lists.

To conduct the study, researchers analyzed cognitive data from over 1,300 adult participants in the Health and Retirement Study. This comprehensive study tracks the lives of Americans aged 50 and older, with more than half of the participants owning pets. It's worth noting that most pet owners had a higher socioeconomic status, which might also contribute to the positive effects. Experts believe that individuals with higher incomes are more likely to prioritize their health and seek medical care.

Jennifer Applebaum, the author of the study and a sociology doctoral candidate at the University of Florida, emphasized that this research is the first of its kind to explore the impact of owning a pet on brain health. In addition to cat and dog owners, this study found that people who cared for fish, rabbits, birds, hamsters, and even reptiles also experienced cognitive benefits.

Dr. Tiffany Braley, a clinical neuroimmunologist from the University of Michigan, explains that owning a pet for five years or more has the greatest impact on cognitive decline. Over the six-year duration of the study, pet owners experienced a 1.2-point delay in cognitive decline compared to those without pets. So, it seems that our beloved household companions can truly have a positive effect on our brain health.

cute cat

Why Do Pets Benefit Brain Health?

The study only showed a connection and not a direct cause and effect between owning a pet and cognition. However, previous research has indicated that stress can negatively affect brain health. Other studies have also found links between interacting with pets and a decrease in stress levels, including lowering cortisol levels and blood pressure, which could have long-term effects on brain health.

Having a pet can also provide numerous other benefits for the brain, like companionship and a sense of purpose. However, that doesn't mean that getting a pet is a universal solution for older adults with concerns about their cognitive health. Applebaum doesn't recommend owning a pet as a therapy, but the study's researchers recommend supporting pet owners through community partnerships and public policy.

Offering free or affordable veterinary services and abolishing pet fees on rental housing would greatly help pet owners, especially in low-income and communities of color. Other useful policies include providing temporary foster care or boarding for people who can't care for their pets due to hospitalization. Being separated from a beloved pet can be devastating, and marginalized communities are at the highest risk for these unfortunate situations.


How Do Pets Improve Focus?

Taking care of a pet can do wonders for your daily routine and focus. It helps you stay on track and gives you a sense of purpose and accomplishment. For individuals with ADHD, having a pet can provide the structure and routine they need to thrive. By managing your pet's needs and keeping track of time, such as feeding and walking them on schedule, they may find improvements in other areas of your life.

An Australian study found that cat owners tend to have more stable mental well-being compared to those without pets. When asked about their happiness levels, cat owners reported feeling more joyful, confident, and less anxious. They also mentioned improved sleep, concentration, and problem-solving abilities in their everyday lives.


Final Thoughts

Owning a pet can have numerous beneficial impacts on our overall well-being, including our social, emotional, and physical health. Additionally, it can enhance our cognitive functions, indirectly contributing to improved brain health. By fostering feelings of happiness, connection, and reduced stress, having a pet can positively influence our mental state.

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