Pet ownership and maintenance of cognitive function in community-residing older adults: evidence from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA)

Sci Rep. 2023 Sep 7;13(1):14738. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-41813-y.


Pet ownership has been associated with reduced deterioration in physical health as older adults age; little research focused on deterioration in cognitive function. We examine the relationship of pet, dog, cat ownership, and dog walking to changes in cognitive function among 637 generally healthy community-dwelling older adults (185 pet owners) aged 50-100 years (M = 68.3, SD = 9.6) within the BLSA. Cognitive assessments every 1-4 years over 1-13 years (M = 7.5, SD = 3.6) include the California Verbal Learning (Immediate, Short, Long Recall); Benton Visual Retention; Trail-Making (Trails A, B, B-A); Digit Span; Boston Naming (Naming); and Digit Symbol Substitution (Digit Symbol) Tests. In linear mixed models, deterioration in cognitive function with age was slower for pet owners than non-owners (Immediate, Short, Long Recall; Trails A,B,B-A; Naming; Digit Symbol); dog owners than non-owners (Immediate, Short Recall; Trails A,B; Naming; Digit Symbol); and cat owners than non-owners (Immediate, Short, Long Recall; Naming), controlling for age and comorbidities. Among dog owners (N = 73) walkers experienced slower deterioration than non-walkers (Trails B, B-A; Short Recall). All ps ≤ 0.05. We provide important longitudinal evidence that pet ownership and dog walking contribute to maintaining cognitive function with aging and the need to support pet ownership and dog walking in design of senior communities and services.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Baltimore
  • Cats
  • Cognition*
  • Dogs
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Ownership*