The Impact of Sustained Ownership of a Pet on Cognitive Health: A Population-Based Study

J Aging Health. 2023 Mar;35(3-4):230-241. doi: 10.1177/08982643221122641. Epub 2022 Aug 25.


Objectives: To examine associations between sustained ownership of a pet and cognitive outcomes among a national sample of U.S. adults. Methods: Weighted linear mixed models were estimated using the Health and Retirement Study (2010-2016, n = 1369) to compare repeated measures of cognitive function between respondents who endorsed owning a pet in a sustained manner (>5 years), versus those who owned a pet ≤5 years, and non-pet owners. Results: Respondents aged 65+ who owned a pet >5 years demonstrated higher composite cognitive scores, compared to non-pet owners (β = .76, p = .03). Sustained pet ownership was associated with higher immediate (β = .3, p = .02) and delayed (β = .4, p = .007) word recall scores. There were no significant differences in cognitive scores between pet owners and non-owners aged < 65. Discussion: Sustained ownership of a pet could mitigate cognitive disparities in older adults. Further studies are needed to examine potential causal pathways, including physical activity and stress buffering, versus selection effects.

Keywords: cognitive function; cognitive health; companion animals; pet ownership; pets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Cognition
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Ownership*
  • Pets* / psychology
  • Retirement