THE number of reported airgun attacks on animals is set to reach a five-year high.

The RSPCA has already received more than 470 calls about such incidents in the first six months of the year, compared to 455 during the same period in 2016.

The figures have been released at one of the busiest times of the year for RSPCA inspectors investigating these deliberate attacks.

The charity is backing calls for stricter regulations around the use of airguns, following the introduction of legislation in Scotland which now means that anyone with an airgun must have a licence.

Dermot Murphy, assistant director of the RSPCA Inspectorate, said: “It is a depressing fact that every year hundreds of victims of airgun attacks are reported to the RSPCA. While wild animals are often victims, the most targeted animal is domestic cats that often suffer fatal or life-changing injuries.

“We receive hundreds of calls from devastated cat owners every year after they discover their beloved pets have been shot. Often it isn’t until the x-rays reveal the pellets still lodged in the animal’s body that it becomes clear what they have been subjected to.

“It often leaves the victim with life-changing injuries, such as the loss of an eye, or even requiring the amputation of a limb. In some tragic instances, the injuries even prove fatal.”

Earlier this year, a cat which had been targeted by air gun thugs three times in the past was found shot dead in a Bournemouth back garden.

Owner Kathy Batten believes four-year-old Whisper, a pure white male cat, was killed by someone living close to her Ensbury Park home.

Last September, a five-year-old Bengal cat, Indy, died of his injuries four days after being shot with an air weapon.

“It is difficult to understand how anyone could carry out these mindless attacks on innocent animals, and we are backing calls for stricter regulations around owning an airgun,” Mr Murphy said.

“This, along with better education and explanation of the law when buying an air gun, and requirements that everyone must receive basic safety training before being allowed to walk out of the shop, could help relieve the problem.”

Last year, the RSPCA received 890 calls to its 24-hour cruelty hotline reporting airgun attacks

This is set to be topped in 2017 however, with 471 calls received by the RSPCA by the end of June, with six months of the year still to come.