A new study has found that having a long-term pet companion may delay memory loss and other kinds of cognitive decline.
According to the preliminary research, researchers found that pet ownership was especially beneficial for working verbal memory, such as memorisation of word lists.
The study analysed cognitive data from 1,300 adults who participated in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study tracking the lives of Americans age 50 and older.
Any participants with cognitive decline at the start of the research were excluded from the analysis. In the final sample, over 53% owned pets.
"To our knowledge, our study is the first to consider the effect of duration of pet ownership on cognitive health," first author, Jennifer Applebaum, a sociology doctoral candidate and National Institute of Health predoctoral fellow at University of Florida, told CNN.
The initial research found that owning household pets for five years or more produced the most benefit. Some participants showed delayed cognitive decline by 1.2 points over the six years of the study compared with the rate of decline in people without pets.
Researchers found that the positive impact of pets was not exclusive to just cats and dogs. People in the study also cared for rabbits, hamsters, birds, fish and reptiles, Applebaum said, although "dogs were most prevalent, followed by cats."
Although the findings showed positive correlations between prevention of cognitive decline and pet ownership, the study had limitations, such as the majority of participants being white women.
Many of the participants were also more affluent, which can also benefit the prevention of cognitive decline in and of itself, as they are more likely to attend and have access to health care.
Because of this, "more research is needed to explain these findings," Applebaum said.
"We are lacking sufficient information about men (and other genders) AND people of colour, especially Black pet owners," she said.
However, the initial findings are conclusive enough to show that pet ownership has many positives.