ANIMAL welfare experts are caring for hundreds of vulnerable pets abandoned in the cold across the country at Christmas.

Officers at the Scottish SPCA charity say they are caring for more than 150 rabbits, guinea pigs and other unwanted pets dumped this winter.

The charity says the animals can often end up in their rescue centres when children lose interest and they have issued a reminder that abandonment is an offence and anyone found guilty committing it could be banned from keeping animals for life.

Janet Kirkpatrick, senior animal care assis- tant at the charity's centre in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, said: "It's not just dogs and cats that are being abandoned, it's what we call our small furries -be it rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils and suchlike.

"Mum and dad get a rabbit or guinea pig for their young ones at Christmas, kids lose interest as it's not doing things like sitting or begging, or because of the cleaning up needed to look after it properly.

"We end up getting them in here, or in a lot of cases the rabbits are abandoned - as in put out in the street or the countryside."

The SSPCA's nine centres are currently caring for 162 small animals, with some rescued after being found dumped in the street.

Two female rabbits, which staff have named Holly and Ivy, were discovered in a cage inside a bag left beside bins at a block of flats in Hamilton earlier this month.

Now ready for rehoming, the pair were in cage big enough for only one guinea pig.

Ms Kirkpatrick added: "I'm not sure whether those who abandon rabbits in the countryside think they will just be like wild rabbits and they will be fine, but domesticated rabbits are used to living in hutches indoors.

"There are foxes, cats, dogs that can get a hold of them. So abandoning them in the country is cruel.

"All our centres are inundated with rabbits.

"If you have an older child, be sensible, talk about the responsibility to help clean its area, read on the internet and read books and if everyone is in agreement then fine - but don't just get one on a whim."

If you want to contact the SSPCA, call 03000 999999.