Auckland retirement villages are welcoming an unlikely set of furry companions.
Four robotic seals will be introduced to the Selwyn foundations rest homes to promote interaction and provide comfort.
The PARO robotic pets take the form of a fluffy white baby Canadian harp seal that responds to touch by making soft noises, moving its head and tail and opening its eyes.
The robots inventor, Dr Takanori Shibata, is an expert in healthcare and robotics and says PARO provides care similar to pet therapy.
The Selwyn Foundation group brought the robots to New Zealand, at a cost of nearly $27,000.
The seals were originally trialled with rest home residents at its Selwyn Heights retirement village in 2013.
It found residents who had sessions with PARO were less lonely and more engaged.
Dr Elizabeth Broadbent - a senior lecturer in psychological medicine at the University of Auckland, who oversaw the trials using PARO at Selwyn - also believes the companions could help those with dementia.
"The next trial will investigate whether PARO is useful for people with dementia and their caregivers in the day-care environment and at home," she says.
"This may have implications for helping people in the community cope with dementia."