Cat Ownership Linked to a Positive Effect on Brain Health

Caitlin Dempsey


A gray tabby sitting in the lap of a person wearing a burnt red sweater.

A preliminary study that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th Annual Meeting in April of 2022 has shown a positive link between pet ownership and brain health.

The research project, lead by Tiffany Braley, of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, analyzed cognitive data from 1,369 older adults with an average age of 65 and normal cognitive ability at the start of the study. Little over half (53%) of the participants owned pets.

The cognitive health of the participants was measured over a span of six years. Cognitive tests which included tests involving subtraction, numeric counting, and word recall, were administered over that time period. The participants were assigned a composite cognitive score based on these tests that ranged from 0 to 27.

The study found that those participants who own pets such as cats or dogs experienced a lower decline in their composite cognitive scores compared to non-pet owners. Those participants that had owned pets for five or more years had the lowest decline compared to all other participants.

A gray tabby sitting in the lap of a person wearing a burnt red sweater.
Pet ownership may play a role in reducing stress and slowing cognitive decline in humans.

When other factors known to affect cognitive function were taken into account, the study found that long-term pet owners had a cognitive composite score that was 1.2 points higher at six years than non-pet owners.

While Braley notes that further research is needed to better understand the relationship between pet ownership and cognitive health, she suggest that the affect of pets in lowering stress might play an influential role. “As stress can negatively affect cognitive function, the potential stress-buffering effects of pet ownership could provide a plausible reason for our findings,” said Braley. “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.”

The study on pets and cognitive health:

Do pets have a positive effect on your brain health? (2022, February 23). American Academy of Neurology: Neurology Resources | AAN.

2022 AAN Annual Meeting Abstract – Companion Animals and Cognitive Health

Read next: Why Do Adult Cats Meow Only to People?

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey holds both a master's in Geography from UCLA and a Master of Library and Information Science. She is the editor of and an avid researcher of geography and feline topics. A lifelong cat owner, Caitlin currently has three rescued cats: an orange tabby, a gray tabby, and a black cat.