SCIENCE fiction is meeting pet therapy at 20 Lancashire care homes – as residents are provided with robotic furry friends.

The android cats and dogs are designed to combat loneliness without mess and fuss.

The 20 mechanical pets behave like the real thing – the dogs bark and wag their tail, the cats meow and perform actions like washing their face – but residents don’t need to walk them or change their litter tray.

The 10 robo-cats and 10 robo-dogs were bought after Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire 50+ Assembly raised £1,800 to buy them,.

The purchase follows research has shown that the robotic animals can help tackle loneliness – and are perfect companions for people with dementia.

Cllr Joan Burrows said: “Keeping pets is really important for many people and they miss having a dog or cat around when they move to a care home.

“These robo-pets are fantastic because they look and act like the real thing. The dogs bark when they hear you, the cats purr when you stroke them.

“They are relaxing and calming and encourage care home residents to socialise as they share memories.”

The homes receiving the robo-pets include Favordale in Colne; Cravenside in Barnoldswick; Woodlands in Clayton-le-Moors; Woodside in Burnley; Chapel Lodge in Worsthorne; Olive House in Bacup; and Woodleigh House in Waterfoot.

Oswaldtwistle’s Cllr Peter Britcliffe, 69, said: “This is certainly worth giving a try. It’s bringing new technology to help older people.

“I might consider a robot pet at some point in the future.

“At the moment I have three cats so I’m not sure they’d get on with a robo-dog.”

Michael Ratcliffe, assistant care manager at Favordale, said “We asked for a robo-dog because one of our residents used to be a dog breeder, so gets a lot of warmth and comfort from holding and stroking it.

"We also currently have a robotic cat and the residents have been passing it around and reminiscing about pets they have owned in the past."

The research showed loneliness carries the equivalent risk to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.

Nationally, 200,000 older people have not spoken with friends or family for a month, and 60 per cent of care home residents get no visitors at all.

Cllr Burrows said: “These robotic pets can encourage people to remember events, bring back fond memories and spend time with others. This helps to ensure people feel less lonely and improve the quality of life of people with dementia.”

The county council is now looking to raise money so more care homes across Lancashire can have a robo-pet.