The Surprising Way Pets Can Boost Brain Power

If you have a pet, you probably already know some of the important benefits that keeping a pet can bring. And indeed, science shows that pets are good for your health. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), keeping a pet lowers your cortisol levels as well as your blood pressure. When cortisol levels stay high, it can raise the risk of many health issues, including heart disease and anxiety, per Healthline. Likewise, high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease (via the American Heart Association).

Owning a pet provides companionship, and this can reduce feelings of loneliness. WebMD points out that pets can boost your mood. In fact, just making eye contact with your pet can raise your spirits. If you need more convincing evidence of the benefits of owning a pet, preliminary research shows that owning a pet can give your brain a boost.

Pet owners scored better on cognitive tests

According to a 2022 study published in the American Academy of Neurology, researchers examined 1,369 adults around age 65 with normal cognitive functioning. Of the participants, 53% owned pets and 32% were long-term pet owners. The study was conducted over six years, and it measured factors that influence cognitive functioning. The composite test included counting, subtraction, and word recall. Researchers found that long-term pet owners on average scored 1.2 points higher on cognitive scores than non-pet owners, and the benefits were greater for African Americans, those with a college education, and men.

Dr. Tiffany Braley, author of the study and a member of the American Academy of Neurology said owning pets may provide "stress-buffering effects" that counter the negative effect stress has on cognitive functioning. "A companion animal can also increase physical activity, which could benefit cognitive health. That said, more research is needed to confirm our results and identify underlying mechanisms for this association," she added.