A new research project which could help elderly people access companion animals is being spearheaded at the University of Lincoln, UK.

Researchers say that companion animals offer a unique opportunity to improve the health and well-being of elderly people, offering them a sense of responsibility. Dogs can encourage people to get out of the house where possible, driving interaction with other dog owners in the park. For those less mobile, a cat on the lap can offer enormous comfort.

Dr Sophie Hall is from the companion animals and human health research team at the University of Lincoln, led by Professor Daniel Mills. She said: “Loneliness is a growing problem in the UK; our aging society is generating higher costs for mental and physical health services, that are impacting on the economic climate.

“There is scientific evidence to suggest that companion animals can improve feelings of support as well as promote social interactions with other people. Companion animals can help to protect the elderly against ill health and reduce their visits to the doctors.”

Their work has now contributed to a census carried out by pet insurance company Vetsure, called ‘Our ‘Special Relationship 2014’ Census.