THE RSPCA fears a rise in interest of 'starter pets' in Somerset during lockdown could lead to an increase in neglect.

The animal charity dealt with 184 incidents involving small furry pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters in the county last year.

But figures for people searching Google for small pets to buy in the summer rocketed and RSPCA rescue teams have already taken hundreds of the creatures into its care due to cruelty, neglect and abandonment.

Among those animals are two-year-old male degus Cecil, Leonard, Rufus and Reg, who have been homes at the RSPCA's West Hatch centre.

They were among hundreds of degus being kept in "very poor living conditions".

An RSPCA spokesperson said: "The degus were in very bad condition and underweight when they arrived at West Hatch, but with treatment and a good diet, their condition has improved immensely.

"It will take some time for their fur to fully grow back, so they still look very scruffy, but they are now ready for their new forever homes.

"Despite the conditions they were kept in, all four of the degus are very friendly and will happily approach for treats. All of them are good to handle and do not bite."

Dr Jane Tyson, of the RSPCA’s Companion Animals Department, said: “Small furries can be fantastic pets to have, however they have a reputation as a good ‘starter pet’ for children as there is a misconception that they are easy to look after, but they actually have quite complex needs.

“For example, rabbits need to live in pairs as they are sociable animals, and need a much bigger space to explore and exercise in than just a hutch.

“During lockdown there seems to have been an increase in interest for starter pets, which may be because parents were at home with their children and so thought it was a good time to bring a new pet into the family.

“While we believe many people buy a rabbit, guinea pig, hamster or other small furry with good intentions, and many will also do their research, there is a risk that not enough research is being done and we are concerned that this could lead to an increase in neglect of small furries in the months to come.

“Adopting small furries from the RSPCA, either from our national centres or any of our branches around the country, will mean you will have all the information and advice you need to ensure your new pets are happy and healthy.”