A dog who was bought as a normal household pet has been awarded the animal equivalent of an OBE for outstanding devotion to her disabled owner.

Three-year-old cocker spaniel Molly has become only the fourth dog to be honoured with the prestigious PDSA Order of Merit after being nominated by her 23-year-old owner Lucy Watts, who was made an MBE in last year's New Year's Honours.

Ms Watts, who lives in Benfleet, Essex, suffers with the connective tissue disorder Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which, coupled with other health complications, can leave her feeling withdrawn, isolated and unhappy.

Her condition is classed as life-limiting. Before she had Molly, she had been struggling to cope with the chronic pain and was bed-bound due to complications.

Molly was bought as a normal pet, but their bond was so strong that she was trained up as an assistance dog by charity Dog Assistance In Disability when she was 10 months old.

She has become a lifeline for Ms Watts and supports her with everyday tasks.

The spaniel can pick up and fetch items on demand, remove clothing, untie shoe laces, open doors and even helps with washing.

Molly also protects Ms Watts and warns her if her temperature spikes by licking her hands and arms.

The high temperatures are an early sign of septicemia blood poisoning, which is life-threatening, so the warnings give Lucy vital time to seek help.

Molly also alerts Ms Watts when her blood pressure drops, allowing her to lie her wheelchair down to prevent a collapse.

Ms Watts said Molly gave her the confidence to work for a string of charities as an ambassador and trustee, and it was for this work that Ms Watts was made an MBE.

Molly joined the Watts household as an eight-week-old puppy and immediately lifted Ms Watts's spirits.

"Molly helped give me something to focus on," she said. "Puppies bring so much joy anyway, but Molly was like a ray of light for me.

"She gave me the motivation to get up and out of bed again."

Before Molly, Ms Watts recalls that she often felt ignored when out in public.

Now, taking Molly out gives her greater confidence to interact with people and she feels they see past her wheelchair.

"Molly is the best companion I could ask for," said Ms Watts. "She seems to instinctively know if I'm in pain or not.

"She never tries to jump up for a cuddle if I'm uncomfortable.

"I'm absolutely thrilled she has been awarded the PDSA Order of Merit.

"She was never intended as an assistance dog but her devotion to me and her training has never wavered.

"I would be lost without her."

Molly's medal was presented at the Watts' family home by PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin, who said: "Lucy and Molly share a very special bond so it was my privilege to meet them both and honour this wonderful relationship with the PDSA Order of Merit."

The PDSA Order of Merit was introduced in 2014 and aims to recognise animals that have shown outstanding acts of devotion.

It has previously been awarded to a police dog who sniffed out firearms, cash and drugs worth £5m, a coastal rescue dog who saved nine people and another dog from drowning and a police dog who served during the London riots of 2011.