People who own a cat or dog are more likely to experience slower cognitive decline compared to those with no pets, new evidence has revealed.

Research conducted at the University of Maryland has found that walking a dog is associated with good mental abilities, including memory, problem solving, learning and thinking.

During the study, the scientists analysed the cognition of more than 630 middle-aged and older adults.

Nearly 15% of the participants owned a dog, while approximately 11% of the adults taking part had a cat.

According to the results, all of the participants experienced cognitive decline over 10 years, but this deterioration was slower in cat or dog owners compared to those with no pets.

In addition, the findings have revealed that the participants who walked their dogs had even slower cognitive decline compared to those who did not take their dog out for walks.

The authors said: “The current study provides important longitudinal evidence for the contribution of pet ownership to the maintenance of cognitive function in generally healthy community-residing older adults as they age.

“Older adult pet owners experienced less decline in cognitive function as they aged, after considering both their pre-existing health and age.”

They added: “Memory, executive function, language function, psychomotor speed, and processing speed deteriorated less over 10 years among pet owners than among non-owners and among dog owners than non-owners.

“Cat owners experienced less deterioration in memory and language function.

“Dog walking also was associated with slower deterioration in cognitive function.”

Prior research has reported that owning a pet is also associated with reducing your heart rate and blood pressure.

Scientists believe this is because pet owners are more relaxed, less stressed and have an external focus for attention.

The authors concluded: “Policy makers can use these findings to support inclusion of pets in care plans, designing housing and neighbourhoods for seniors that are friendly for dog walking, and developing programmes to support pet ownership.”

The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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