CALLS to an animal welfare charity from people facing the “heartbreaking” decision to give up their pet soared last year amid the cost of living crisis.

The Scottish SPCA said more than 4000 calls to its helpline last year were from people enquiring about giving up their pet, more than three times as many as in 2021.

It said the majority of callers cited financial issues including vet bills as their main issue.

The charity said some people were having to choose between feeding themselves or their animal, or were considering giving their pet up. In response to the difficulties people are facing, the Scottish SPCA last August pioneered Pet Aid, which provides vital pet supplies to people when they need them most.

The service, which works with local food banks and community projects across Scotland, is now available in 35 places around the country.

Scottish SPCA chief executive Kirsteen Campbell said: “Through our animal helpline and inspectors, the Scottish SPCA has a unique insight into the impact of the cost of living crisis on people and their pets.

“Last year we saw first-hand how people were having to choose between feeding themselves or their animal, or making the heartbreaking decision to give their pet up.”

Campbell added: “The best thing for animal welfare is to keep a human and a pet together, and that’s what our overriding ambition is through this crisis.”

The Scottish SPCA said 2022 was “one of the most challenging’ in its 183-year history. It said it has been stretched to its limit as the cost of living crisis, ability to pay vet bills and the low-welfare pet trade drove animal welfare issues in Scotland.

Animal rescue officers and inspectors responded to 86,078 reports of animals in need in 2022, more than 235 per day. This included helping more than 13,000 dogs, almost 8000 cats and more than 3000 hedgehogs.

The charity’s animal rescue and rehoming centres rehomed 3434 animals. It also plans to expand its fostering service this year.

Campbell said: “One of the cruellest aspect of the cost of living crisis has been that we’ve had to take more animals in, while finding it harder to rehome them due to people’s weariness to take on an animal during such an uncertain time.

“We piloted a fostering service in summer 2022, and will be expanding this throughout 2023 to get animals in to the right environment quickly, and maximise use of the space we have to get animals who really need help into our care.

“This service is in the spirit of doing the best we possibly can for animals as we navigate the current economic and societal challenges.”