A BOOM in kitten buying during lockdown has prompted the RSPCA to issue a warning for prospective owners to think carefully before committing.

Data shows that July saw online Google searches for ‘kittens near me’ increase by 667 per cent compared to the same period last year.

However, the RSPCA is concerned that a boom in lockdown kitten buying could ultimately lead to more cats coming into rescue centres and needing new homes.

This year already the charity has responded to 585 cat incidents in County Durham, 660 in North Yorkshire and 707 in Tyne and Wear.

Alice Potter, the RSPCA’s cat welfare expert, said: “It’s fantastic that so many people are interested in bringing a cat into their home this year.

"However, with such high increases in people searching for kittens online, it’s important that prospective owners are doing their research and not buying a kitten on impulse.

"This means making sure they have the time, money and resources to care for a cat for the rest of their lives, but also ensuring that if buying a kitten, they are buying a healthy and happy kitten from a responsible breeder."

The RSPCA is encouraging people to adopt a rescue cat instead.

During the lockdown, there has been a 114 per cent increase in the amount of people searching for cats to adopt on the RSPCA’s Find a Pet page compared to the previous year.

Ms Potter added: “It’s great to see so many people are looking to adopt a rescue cat with more than a million people visiting our cat Find a Pet page during the pandemic.

“We are braced for a kitten season boom next year as routine neutering procedures had to be put on hold during the lockdown.

"This means that whilst the UK is already facing a cat overpopulation crisis, we may now see even more unplanned litters of kittens.

"If you’ve got a kitten during lockdown, it’s so important to get them booked into your vets for a spay or a snip.

“Kittens can get pregnant from just four months old and there may be a longer wait than usual at some vet practices due to the pandemic, so it’s important to get them booked in early.

"We believe neutering from four-months-old can help tackle the overpopulation crisis and ensure we don’t see more unwanted litters being born and putting extra strain on rescue centres like the RSPCA.”

Cats are popular pets with the charity rehoming 24,095 cats last year - that’s one cat rehomed every 20 minutes across England and Wales and 709 cats rehomed in County Durham.