A BOOM in kitten buying could be behind the RSPCA being called to a massive 711 'cat incidents' in Somerset so far this year.

The charity fears there could be a surge of more felines entering its rescue centres and needing new homes.

RSPCA officers believe many people have sought a new pet to keep them company during lockdown without considering how they will care for the new addition to their home in the long-term.

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.

"We see much higher cases of puppy farms than unscrupulous kitten breeders, but it does happen, which is why it’s so important to do your research and make sure you’re buying from a reputable seller.

"Sadly, we do see cases of cats coming into our care who have been bought without the correct vaccinations, care or attention and the results can not only be devastating for the cats themselves, but also the new owners who have to provide the time and cost it takes to look after these very poorly kittens."

The RSPCA and other cat charities have set up The Kitten Checklist to provide vital information, such as ensuring you see the kitten with its mum and siblings in the place where they were bred, and peace of mind for anyone looking to bring a kitten into their home.

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."

Among the cats at the West Hatch Animal Centre needing a new home is two-year-old Marshall, who was abandoned.

He has a trust issue following his previous experience, switching from being friendly to being frightened.

A spokesman at West Hatch said his "conflicting behaviour" should reduce in a stable home environment.