Owners are abandoning their pets as they struggle to cope with the credit crunch.

Animal charities and rescue centres across Sussex have reported a sharp increase in the number of pets being dumped on the street.

They have also seen a drop in the number of people able to offer the pets a new home.

Many charity bosses now believe there could be a shortage of centres to cope with the increased demand.

Marcia Harris, who runs the Sussex Pet Rescue charitable trust, in Storrington, said: "Homing for dogs really is at its lowest.

"We find each year that people who want to get rid of their dogs usually do so before their summer holidays. Now with added financial pressures, people are having to work more hours meaning they can't provide a good home to a dog.

"We're only just beginning to see the impact of the credit crunch. Vet and food costs are just getting higher.

"We can only house as many dogs as we can find foster homes for as we don't use kennels. It's not an easy time."

The story is the same at the RSPCA branch in Patcham, Brighton. Manager Jenny Wells said: "We've seen a 50% increase in animals being brought in because of financial difficulties in just the past six weeks and it's right across the board, with dogs, cats, rabbits and more. People are really struggling.

"There has been an increase in evictions as the property market is being hit and people can't take their pets to rented accommodation.

It's a really sad situation when a family loses its home and its pet, too.

"Our cattery is full at the moment so we can't take in any more. This is the worst I've seen it for years."

Some pets that become too much of a financial burden are simply abandoned.

Mid Sussex Happy Breed Dog Rescue Society, based in Burgess Hill, has worked with animal wardens to rehouse stray dogs for 55 years. Linda Thurlow, who runs the service, said it was being stretched to its limit.

She said: "The phone just never stops ringing at the moment - there has definitely been an increase in the number of strays in Mid Sussex.

"Financially speaking we can only afford to take on six dogs and the rest we have to find foster homes for. But we're finding less and less of those now."

Keren O'Mahony, a fundraiser for Sussex Pet Rescue, said: "At the moment we need to raise a minimum of £6,000 every month just to cover our vets bills. And the long-term impact of this squeeze is yet to be felt."

Sussex Pet Rescue and the RSPCA offer a free or discounted neutering service for people on a low income to help pay vets fees.

Ms Thurlow said: "Something has got to be done about the breeding so we have a chance of solving this increasingly serious problem."

The Bluebell Ridge cattery at Chowns Hill, Hastings, blames an influx of kittens on owners failing to get their animals neutered. Manager Julie Watson said: "Owners are simply failing to get their cats neutered then not knowing what to do with all the kittens."

The centre prefers kittens to be rehomed in pairs, but said anyone interested in giving a cat or kitten a home should visit them.

It also runs neutering events.