Four pet rats were found freezing to death in a dirty, wet cage in Wallsend, North Tyneside after being abandoned by their owner.
After being rescued by the RSPCA, the animals were taken to a veterinarian near Chester-le-Street, where two of the animals were put to sleep on veterinary advice to prevent further suffering.
This comes as analysis from the RSPCA has shown that the charity's officers dealt with 1,324 incidents of animals being abandoned last month and a further 1,529 in January.
It’s believed the cost of living crisis, coupled with the expected financial pressures on pet owners during the festive season, may have led to the upsurge.
The animals were first discovered when a member of the public alerted the charity after spotting the rodents’ enclosure in undergrowth off a footpath at the back of houses near Telford Court.
Discovered at about 7pm on Sunday (March 12), the group of female rats had been left out in the snow with a water bottle and a cake to eat.
The caller kindly covered the cage with a piece of tarpaulin to help keep the animals dry before they were collected by RSPCA inspector Jaqui Miller.
The rats were taken to a vet near Chester-le-Street for treatment. Sadly, two of the animals had large masses which were open and bleeding and were euthanised prevent further suffering.
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The remaining pair are now in RSPCA care and are expected to make a full recovery and will be rehomed by the charity in due course.
Inspector Miller said: “This little group of pet rats were vulnerable to predators, not to mention the inclement weather, so it was fortunate they were spotted - particularly as it was dark at the time.
“Two of them were in a poor condition with nasty looking tumour-like masses which had been left untreated.
“Abandoning pets in this way is never the answer and we’d urge anyone who is struggling to look after their animals - at what is a very difficult economic time for many people - to seek advice and support.”
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With the increase in pet ownership and the cost-of-living crisis putting a strain on people’s finances, the RSPCA is seeing an increase in rescued animals coming into the charity’s care at a time when rehoming has slowed.
For pet owners who are worried about the cost of living crisis, the RSPCA has opened a telephone helpline to support callers and a dedicated cost of living hub with practical help and advice.
Anyone who recognises the abandoned rats or has information about the incident can contact the RSPCA’s inspectorate appeal line on 0300 123 8018.