Having a furry pal may help slow down cognitive decline 

Recent studies show that pet owners aged 50 and above who live alone have fewer verbal memory problems, lower risk of dementia. 

Filipinos are pet lovers. According to Rakuten Insight, the Philippines has the highest number of dog owners in Asia at a whopping 67 percent. About 43 percent of households also have cats, the second highest rate next to Indonesia’s 47 percent. 

The country is among the top seven countries worldwide with the highest number of dogs, with estimates pegging our doggy paw-pulation at upwards of 20 million, while the number of pet cats are at about eight million. 

A 2023 research by TGM Pet Care in the Philippines revealed that 74 percent of the 362 respondents have not just one, but multiple pets.

The Philippines has the highest number of dog owners in Asia region at 67 percent. Photo by Rama Gaspar, Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, in a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations that covered the first quarter of 2023, 64 percent of households in the Philippines have pets, with dogs (78 percent) and cats (50 percent) considered as the most popular. Data was gathered nationwide through face-to-face interviews with 1,200 Filipino respondents from March 26 to 29, 2023.

Good for the heart

The numbers should come as no surprise because pet ownership comes with a slew of benefits. You may argue that keeping pets could be costly, time-consuming even—and this is a fair argument, I have to admit. However, as a furmom to four adorable pooches myself, I believe that the pros far outweigh the cons. It’s not always easy taking care of Peanut, Peppa, Baboy, and Cookie, but it is always worth it!  

The writer with her husband, son, and furbaby Peanut.

And we have science to back up our love for our furry pals. The same SWS survey cited several benefits of pet ownership, some of which are on the owners’ mental health, such as: feeling less down/stressed (41 percent), providing companionship (36 percent), and making owner feel more secure (36 percent). 

“Having pets is like having extra members of the family. We treat them with absolute love and kindness,” shares actor and commercial model Anton Nolasco, who has seven aspin, two of which have been rescued. “They are my number one stress relievers,” he tells The Post

Jeng Paradero-Mamiit, a freelance tutor, had pets growing up but not with the setup that she wanted. “I said to myself that I’ll have a home where I can sleep with my cats and dogs by my side,” she says. She now has seven cats and 11 dogs.

“Oftentimes, they know when I am not okay. They nuzzle me and ask for cuddles whenever I am feeling down, and of course, they join me when I’m feeling great,” Jeng adds. “It also doesn’t hurt that I am living with retired therapy dogs but I believe all pets are our therapy pets, certified or not. And yes, some sleep beside me, though I cannot let all of them in our bedroom. Else, there will be a circus!”

Mackee Angeles, a Grade 10 student, says that he and his family keep pets because they help keep stress at bay. “Cute din po kasi sila,” he adds with a smile. Mackee lives with 10 parrots, four dogs, and two cats, all of whom, he says, they consider family.

Grade 10 student Mackee Angeles lives with 10 parrots, four dogs, and two cats. This is Catriona, one of his pet cats. Photo from Mackee Angeles.

Another junior high schooler, Troy dela Torre, echoes the same statement, saying that they consider their pet cat as part of the family.

Good for the mind 

We can go on and on about how pets, especially dogs and cats, are good for our mental and emotional health. But there’s another reason why you should consider having your own pet—it’s also good for your brain in general, as shown in the findings of a recent research on pet ownership and cognitive decline. 

In an article which came out on The Washington Post, it was mentioned how, according to research published in the journal JAMA Network Open, those with a pet were found to have less decline in verbal memory and verbal fluency than those without one.
Findings were based on data from 7,945 adults 50 or older who live alone.

According to the study, problems with verbal issues, such as those tested by the researchers—fluency, memory, and cognition, meaning the ability to remember what you have heard and find the words to express yourself—can be early signs of cognitive decline.
Having a pet, however, provides companionship and “is related to reduced loneliness,” the researchers write. They further describe loneliness as an important risk factor for dementia and cognitive decline.

An article published on Psychology Today in September 2023 also shared the results of a study headed by Jennifer Applebaum of the Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law at the University of Florida in Gainesville, which found out how owning a dog may help prevent dementia in seniors. 

Having a pet brings companionship into a person’s life, reducing loneliness.
Photo from the Philippine Animal Welfare Society’s website.

The research team say simply having a dog in the room or petting one before the test should not provide any noticeable cognitive benefit—the keyword here is “long-term” dog ownership. They hypothesize that short-term interactions with a dog do not make a difference, but rather the “cumulative effect of day-to-day interactions” with one’s pet dog over a sustained period of time which ultimately matters and provides the cognitive benefits.

The reason for this benefit from dog ownership, they say, is not clear. The researchers speculate, however, that one factor might have to do with the effect of oxytocin on brain function. Often called a “love or feel-good” hormone, it is released when a person has pleasant social interactions, including those with their furbaby. 

Some recent studies have suggested that oxytocin not only has the emotional effects associated with owner and pet bonding, but it also affects social cognition and memory encoding in humans on a neurological level. The extra doses of oxytocin over a prolonged period of pet ownership might be what’s providing the cognitive benefits to seniors, the researchers say.

The new lifestyle.