The RSPCA has introduced new guidance for worried pet owners to help them through the ongoing cost of living crisis.

The charity received 3,644 calls last year (2021) categorised as 'help with vet bills' - a growth of 12% on the year before unable afford pet carewhen 3,241 calls were received.

On the RSPCA's website 5% of visits to the advice and welfare pages were owners looking for help in financially caring for their animals.

The RSPCA's chief vet Caroline Allen said: "Times are tough for so many people at the moment, the cost of living is spiralling and many people may face difficult financial decisions over the coming months.

"It may be tempting to bury your head in the sand if your pet seems unwell and you are worried about costs but this can lead to increased problems later down the line.

"The first step towards helping your pet is contacting a vet.

"Although it can feel awkward to talk about money, it is good to speak honestly with your vet about what you can afford as there may be alternative options.

"These may not be the best option that exists to treat your pet¿s illness, but they may still help your pet to feel better.

"Depending on your circumstances or where you live there may also be charities who can help."

To help minimise the likelihood of a a large unexpected bill the RSPCA recommends:

Registering with a vet
Following your vets advice on preventative care eg. flea and worming
Getting your pet insured
Pet care DIY dangers
The RSPCA is also becoming increasingly concerned about reports of people trying to treat their pets at home. Google searches for 'can I give my dog paracetamol' have increased from 5,600 per month in January 2020 to 11,400 searches by April 2020 and this has increased further to 14,600 monthly searches in January 2022.

Caroline added: "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. 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."