More than £75,000 of veterinary treatments have already been provided to owners in need thanks to an innovative partnership between the RSPCA and petcare company Purina.
The charity's frontline inspectorate and Purina have teamed up to help struggling owners through the cost-of-living crisis.
The 'Better Together Fund' - which formally launched in October last year - enables RSPCA officers to issue pet care vouchers to members of the public for specific urgent veterinary and pet care treatments, thanks to generous funding from Purina.
Those in receipt of vouchers are identified by RSPCA officers as they respond to welfare concerns and complaints.
The cost of living crisis is one of the single biggest challenges for animal welfare right now - but the RSPCA believes their work with Purina is "helping to keep family pets in loving homes".
Vouchers are provided directly to pet owners by RSPCA officers, helping them to pay for urgent vet and other treatments, which they otherwise couldn’t afford or which, in some cases, might lead to the pet eventually having to be rehomed.
Purina’s continued support for pet owners most in need comes as the RSPCA’s new Animal Kindness Index reveals widespread concern among pet owners amid ongoing economic uncertainty.
The Index found that 81% of pet owners say it has become more expensive to look after their pets, while almost one third (30%) of owners are worried about being able to care for their pets properly amid a high cost of living.
The vouchers funded by the Better Together Fund have been offered out by the charity’s inspectorate groups to pet owners right across England and Wales - with those in South Wales, Devon and Cornwall, and West Mercia in receipt of the most funding and support so far.
Top ten regions in receipt of most voucher funding from the scheme:South Wales: £7,313.47
West Mercia: £4,220.04
Devon & Cornwall: £4,148.07
Merseyside & Cheshire: £3,981.85
Leicestershire & Northants: £3,884.37
Thames Valley: £2,875.86
Gloucestershire & Warwickshire: £2,746.05
Dermot Murphy, RSPCA Inspectorate Commissioner, said: "We want to keep as many pets in loving homes as possible.
"But the cost of living crisis is one of the single biggest challenges for pet owners right now - as proven by our landmark Animal Kindness Index.
"That's why our partnership with Purina has been so invaluable for keeping pets with their owners, and has offered a lifeline for hundreds of pet owners during this awful cost of living crisis.
“Our officers can offer struggling owners vital support with vet and pet care costs on the doorstep thanks to this partnership with Purina. So often, the work of our rescue teams is all about offering advice, education and support - and the Better Together Fund has become an integral part of that; making a real difference in communities all across England and Wales."
Support from Purina is set to continue - with the pet food company committing almost £150,000 to the scheme in total so far, meaning hundreds more pets are set to benefit.
Funding provided by Purina has already helped 868 pets - including 562 dogs and 306 cats.
Treatments delivered to pets using the vouchers have included emergency procedures, work for ongoing conditions and support for acute and chronic health conditions.
Calum Macrae, Managing Director for Purina in the UK, added: “We are delighted to be able to continue our support for the RSPCA by taking the Better Together Fund into its second year.
“We know how precious the pet human bond can be and want to help keep as many pets as possible happy, healthy and with their loving owners, even during these incredibly tough times.
“It's heart-warming to hear how the vouchers are helping RSPCA officers to make such an immediate and tangible difference for households up and down the country."
Pets helped by the scheme include a heavily matted dog with long claws seen by RSPCA Inspector Hannah Nixon in Hampshire.
The dog's owners were elderly and vulnerable, and were struggling financially. They knew their pet would need to be sedated to be groomed, which was not something they were able to afford - meaning they were “burying their heads in the sand” and the dog’s welfare risked paying the price.
Fortunately, with the help of the Purina-funded vouchers, the dog was sedated by a local vet and was clipped the same afternoon, and returned to his owners.
RSPCA Inspector Hannah Nixon said: “We know times are tough right now - and we’re seeing on the frontline the impact this is having on many beloved family pets.
“Sometimes - as problems escalate - owners feel powerless to take action, especially when they know the price of treatment will be beyond their reach.
“I could see the owners had got into difficulty with this poor dog. Things had rapidly escalated and they were worried about the spiralling financial costs of helping their pet. They ended up burying their heads in the sand.
“Thanks to these vouchers, we could get the dog the treatment he so badly needed and get the owners back on an even keel. It was a real relief for everyone, and it’s all thanks to Purina’s kind support that dogs like this can be kept in loving homes.”
The partnership with the RSPCA is one of a number of measures Purina has in place to help owners who might be struggling during the cost-of-living crisis. In addition to the Better Together Fund, this support includes regular monthly donations of at least two pallets of pet food to foodbanks and community support hubs through Fareshare. Pet owners can also visit a dedicated Owners Support Hub on our website for expert advice on many topics from behaviour and nutrition, through to how to minimise unexpected vet bills, as well as every day hints and tips to keep pets as healthy and happy as possible.
Struggling owners are also urged to visit the RSPCA's dedicated cost of living web pages to find out what help and support is available in their area.