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A woman laying on the sofa with a white dog on her chest.

Gatesworth Stories —

Seniors & Pets
Health & Wellness: What about a pet?

There’s a reason so many cat and dog videos go viral on social media, why we can watch some of them repeatedly and feel the same amused and happy response. Pets change us. Evidence suggests that even a short video clip of a cat sitting on a dog’s head can affect stress levels and brighten a mood. In short, pets and their antics can make us feel better.

That’s why animals are used in therapy to help those struggling with mental disorders and why animals are trained to help people living with a disability. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “animals of all kinds are proving their value to individuals dealing with a wide range of mental health conditions, including depression and even dementia.” And in St. Louis, pet therapy dogs have long been part of the healing process at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Siteman Cancer and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

But you don’t have to be unwell to benefit from a close relationship with a pet. Ask most any dog or cat owner what their furry friend brings to the table. Yes, you’ll get stories about disappearing socks and furballs behind the couch, but you’ll also hear words like “companionship,” and “unconditional love.” Marwan Sabbagh, MD, director of Cleveland Clinic’s center for brain health, says, “Simply petting an animal can decrease the level of the stress hormone cortisol and boost the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, resulting in lowered blood pressure and heart rate and, possibly, in an elevated mood.

If you already have a pet in your life, you know all this instinctively. If you are an active senior looking to add something beneficial to your life, something that might help ease loneliness or offer additional ways to stay active and connected to others, you might consider a pet.

What kind of pet and from where—dog or cat, from a breeder or an adoption facility—is a matter of personal choice. If you’re undecided, there are plenty of online tools available to help make choices, from Purina Farm’s dog breed selector to the American Kennel Club’s lighthearted quiz purported to help you determine whether you’re a cat or dog person.

You can also conduct your own quiz: Do you have the time and patience for a puppy, which will require a lot of both? Would a mature cat be better suited to your lifestyle? Consider how you structure days; talk to some friends about their perceptions; watch a few cat or dog training videos to understand more about your choices and their implications.

Having a pet in your home can help structure your day, will certainly offer moments of joy and also provide opportunities for exercise. In fact, if you decide an active dog, one that will require brisk walks on a regular schedule, would make a good companion, your brain will benefit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that a healthy adult should get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. A dog friend can help meet that goal with ease. And while you’re out on those walks together, you’ll meet other dog-walkers. As it turns out, social connection is another benefit of pet ownership. And that goes for cat people, too, who have all kinds of stories to tell friends and acquaintances about Miss Muffet’s or Mr. Jinx’s antics.

Unlike some retirement communities, The Gatesworth welcomes small pets. And our community is richer for having them. Because we’re committed to the health and wellbeing of our residents, we understand just how enriching and beneficial a pet can be. If you’re already a resident and considering a new pet, or are contemplating a move to The Gatesworth with the pet you already have, give us a call: 314-993-0111. We’re here to help you and your furry companion make the most out of life.

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