Animal charities say they fear households are cutting back on food and vet care for pets as the cost of living crisis spirals - with the RSPCA also raising concerns about reports of people trying to treat creatures at home with medicines designed for humans.
With the number of unwanted smaller animals now arriving at shelters rising, welfare officers say the rapid increase in household bills and other costs is now starting to impact on many people's ability to care for their furry friends.
The RSPCA has already taken in 79% more rabbits and 18% more cats in the first four months of this year compared to the same period in 2021 while Cats Protection says it too is now witnessing the first signs that some people can no longer afford the costs that come with owning a pet.
The feline charity has seen a 25% leap in the number of kittens being handed over to adoption centres in the first quarter of this year - a situation only likely to get worse it says.
Jane Clements, Head of Neutering at Cats Protection, explained: "The top reasons we are seeing for kitten relinquishments are because they are stray, from an unwanted litter, or part of a multi-cat household. This year we are also seeing people having to relinquish cats due to home evictions.
"Life is expensive at the moment and the impact of the cost of living crisis is really going to start showing in the later stages of the year."
With a further massive hike in energy bills expected in October, Cats Protection is not the only charity braced for further problems as people find themselves running out of money.
The RSPCA is pleading with pet owners to not ignore routine medical treatment, such as worming, or put-off treating minor ailments in the hope that they resolve - stressing that it is only likely to lead to increased problems and more costly bills later down the line.
The charity, which received 3,644 calls in 2021 categorised as ‘help with vet bills’ - an increase of 12% on the year before and a figure which is expected to be topped in 2022 - says it is also becoming increasingly concerned about reports of people trying to treat pets at home because they cannot afford professional care.
Google searches for ‘can I give my dog paracetamol’ increased from 5,600 per month in January 2020 to 14,600 monthly searches by the end of January this year, says the organisation, which added that 5% of visits to the advice and welfare pages on its website are now owners looking for financial help and information.
Chief vet Caroline Allen explained: “Whilst we understand people believe they are trying to help their animals by seeking to treat them at home, what can work for a human is often unsuitable for pets and may even be toxic. Your pet may then end up needing more costly treatment.
“There is help and guidance available from the RSPCA website on common ailments seen in pets but your first contact if you have a concern should always be your vet - explain your situation and in many cases they should be able to give you a range of options."
But as people come under more pressure to make ends meet - emotions are also overflowing - with some vet practices reportedly experiencing more abuse from customers too.
Caroline Allen added: "It is important to remember that there is no NHS for pets and that vet practices do have to charge for their services and treatments in order to stay open. Although facing up to vet bills can be distressing and emotional it is important not to take this out on the vet or their team.
"Like some NHS staff, vet practices are experiencing an increasing amount of abuse, which is clearly unacceptable and is only going to worsen the current vet shortages.”
The RSPCA says it is stepping-up its partnerships with food banks to help distribute pet food to struggling owners to try and keep to a minimum the number of pets people say they can no longer look after.
But cutting back on pet food and vet bills is not the only sacrifices households are making to keep their pets - with research from one pet business suggesting owners are slimming down their own grocery bills to cover costs.
Kennel manufacture Benchmark Kennels has surveyed hundreds of pet owners to see which costs have risen the most and how owners are reducing spending to meet their pet's needs.
Almost a quarter says they had cancelled monthly streaming subscriptions to combat the rising cost of pet ownership while more than 10% admitted to spending less on food for themselves too.
The rising price of pet food was said to be the biggest escalating cost while higher vet and insurance charges were also becoming a factor.
Cheryl Sampson, from Benchmark Kennels, said: "As the cost of living across the UK increases, so do pet ownership costs such as pet food, vet bills, and grooming.
"When considering whether or not to purchase a puppy or kitten, it is essential to do thorough research into the day-to-day costs of owning a dog.
"Pet food may be more expensive than you first thought. Pair this with vet bills and insurance costs, and the total price of owning a pet begins to pile up.
"Ensuring that the dog's needs are taken care of is the top priority. Cutting back on luxuries such as eating out or cancelling streaming subscriptions is imperative in ensuring pet costs are cared for first."