FEARS have been raised over the number of dumped pets through lockdown.

Last winter, the RSPCA received 4,650 reports of abandoned animals, including 52 in Wiltshire.

Since the start of November there have been 985 reports of dumped and unwanted animals to the charity's cruelty line – including five in Wiltshire.

The RSPCA says reports of increased pet ownership, coupled with a deepening recession could see more pets left out in the cold this year.

Head of the RSPCA’s animal rescue teams Dermot Murphy said: “During the lockdown there have been reports of a rise in people buying or adopting new pets, often for the very first time. Whilst it’s great that so many people have become pet owners and have found their pet to be a real source of comfort during these challenging times, we are concerned that some people may have bought a pet on impulse without considering how their lifestyle might change once the pandemic ends. On top of that, we are facing real economic uncertainties, and, as in previous recessions, people may simply find themselves unable to afford their pet."

“The last thing we want to see is animals dumped and left out in the cold so we’d urge anyone who is struggling to care for their pets to please reach out to friends, family and charities for support instead.”

A poll by the RSPCA, conducted by YouGov revealed that just over one in 10 (11 per cent) pet owners had taken on a pet during lockdown and, of those, nearly one in ten (9 per cent) said that their pet had been more expensive than they had expected. Just over one in 20 (6 per cent) were worried about being able to afford them in the future.

A third of GB adults who own a pet (33 per cent) said they were worried that pets bought during lockdown will be abandoned if people returned to work and 31 per cent said they were concerned that pets will be dumped this Christmas if people were struggling.

Dermot added: “We would always urge anyone considering getting a pet to thoroughly do their research to make sure they can give them the time, money and care they need for the rest of their lives. As the impact of the pandemic puts a strain on people’s finances and as many people start to return to work or some kind of normality, the fear is that we will see a surge in abandoned and neglected animals coming into our care.”

The most common concern reported to the RSPCA’s cruelty line last winter was neglect, with more than 76 reports a day relating to pain and disease (6,916) and 57 reports a day for unsuitable environments (5,134).

Since the start of lockdown, from March 23 until November 29, the RSPCA’s cruelty line has received 11,052 reports about abandoned animals.

This winter, the RSPCA expects to rescue thousands of animals from neglect, cruelty and suffering.