The number of animals being abandoned has soared by 65 per cent since 2007, when the global financial crisis hit.
Some 40,595 animals were left to fend for themselves in 2011, compared to 24,638 five years ago. The RSPCA warned that pets are facing “dark times” as owners struggle to make ends meet in times of economic hardship.
The charity, which fields 25,000 calls a week from the public, said cruelty convictions have increased by 23.5 per cent in five years, and there have been 1,176 convictions involving the RSPCA in the first nine months of this year alone.
“We have more animal abusers to investigate, prosecute and hopefully prevent from hurting animals than anyone can remember,” said chief executive Gavin Grant.
The RSPCA said it was becoming harder to rehome abandoned pets. Just 12,711 dogs found new owners in 2011, down on the 16,659 rehomed in 2009. Cats and dogs are having to stay in rescue centres for an average of 59 days, meaning the cost of their care has risen. Looking after the average dog now costs £885.
Despite efficiency savings, the charity's running costs have risen 8 per cent from £111m to £120m in four years.
Mr Grant said: “This is a real crisis and despite the immense dedication of our staff and volunteers, we are struggling to cope. We really need our country's animal lovers to step forward and open their hearts, homes and purses in these extremely difficult times.”