RSPCA prosecutions in Wales have hit a five-year high - with social media and video evidence playing a central role in catching many perpetrators of animal cruelty.

Offenders are being caught in the act on camera - or are openly filming themselves harming animals - with RSPCA Cymru calling 2018 a year of “unimaginable cruelty”.

In 2018, there were 164 convictions secured by the RSPCA in magistrates’ courts across Wales with RSPCA Cymru superintendent Martyn Hubbard describing cases as “shocking, disturbing and upsetting”. A further 41 offenders were cautioned by the animal welfare charity in 2018.

Out of the 164 convictions - 91 related to dogs, 37 to cats and 21 to equines.

By contrast, there were 148 convictions in 2017 and 120 in 2016; while 2018’s figure is approaching double that of 2015 - where 89 convictions were secured.

However, the RSPCA inspectorate in Wales investigated 10,856 complaints of cruelty over the calendar year - an increase on 2017 by nearly 700 complaints - highlighting how prosecutions remain a last resort for the charity.

In Ceredigion there were 257 complaints of cruelty investigated in 2018, compared to 267 the year before; in Pembrokeshire, 512 compared to 544 and in Carmarthenshire 624 compared to 626.

RSPCA Cymru’s superintendent Martyn Hubbard said: “These new statistics show a five-year high for RSPCA prosecution activity in Wales - with some of the deliberate, horrifying cruelty, and mindless acts of abuse, dealt with by our dedicated officers frankly unbelievable.

“These figures demonstrate all the hard work from the RSPCA’s frontline officers. Our message is clear - we will not tolerate animal cruelty in Wales.

“Nevertheless, prosecution is generally a last resort for the RSPCA - the vast majority of RSPCA work is improving animal welfare by giving advice to owners. In 2018 the number of animal owners who were offered and accepted welfare advice numbered 5,940.

“Put simply, there is no excuse for animal cruelty and RSPCA Cymru will continue to ensure animal welfare laws are adhered to in all corners of the country.”

Superintendent Hubbard added: “Once again we’d like to thank the members of public for being our eyes and ears - out in the communities across Wales and also online; reporting animal suffering to us. Without them and the evidence they provide we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”

To contact the RSPCA with any animal welfare concerns, call 0300 1234 999. Calls are in confidence.