Older people who own pets fall asleep more easily and feel better about their local area, new research has revealed.

The investigation conducted by Kingston University with St George’s University of London was part of a study which began in 1985 and involved over 10,000 civil servants.

Kingston University health and wellbeing expert Gill Mein and statistician Robert Grant found older owners take mild and moderate exercise more frequently than those without pets.

Ms Mein said: “The fact that older people with pets fell asleep more easily than those without could be linked to the increased mild and moderate exercise we saw in this group, and particularly among dog owners.

“The other element I found fascinating was that people with pets felt happier about their local environment.

“If you walk around your neighbourhood, you feel more comfortable about it. It isn’t necessarily as hostile as it could be if you mainly travel in a car or use public transport as you know it a bit better, it’s more familiar.”

Of the 1,929 pet owners interviewed in the story, 18 percent owned cats, 11 per cent owned dogs and four per cent owned fish.

The remainder kept birds, rabbits, tortoises, horses, guinea pigs, chickens and hamsters.

Ms Mein added: “I interviewed a lady who had a parrot. Every time I asked her something, the parrot repeated it, so you can hardly hear anything she says on the recording.”

While all pet owners enjoyed better sleep, more frequent exercise and enhanced appreciation of their neighbourhood, owning a dog had significantly increased results in these areas.

Mr Grant said: “While those who took part in the Whitehall II study are not entirely representative of the population of retired people in Britain, the findings are still significant.

“The sleep and neighbourhood perceptions are the really new aspects that haven't been looked at before.”