A charity said it has received nearly 2,000 calls from dog owners inquiring about rehoming their pets in the last three months.
Dogs Trust is warning people to think hard about buying a dog during lockdown amid concerns that a huge wave of people will abandon or seek to rehome their pets when restrictions are lifted.
It comes after a spokesman confirmed that the charity had received thousands of calls from owners asking for help to find a new home for their dog in just three months.
British breeders of puppies have seen a huge surge in demand for dogs during the lockdown, sparking fears that many families will give them up once they realise the scale of the responsibility ahead.
Dogs Trust said Google searches for “buy a puppy” increased by 120% in April - a month after the first lockdown was announced, adding that “adopt a puppy” saw an even bigger rise of 133% in online searches, according to data from Propellernet.
The charity’s chief executive Owen Sharp said that while the expected surge of dogs being handed to them has yet to happen, “we believe the worst is yet to come”.
Sharp said many people might suddenly find themselves struggle to cope when the furlough schemes and lockdown restrictions finally come to an end.
He added: "It's no surprise that during the pandemic there has been a huge demand for dogs, as more people have been at home with time to care for a new family member, of the canine kind.”
Watch: Lockdown demand sees puppy prices soar
But Sharp warned those who are thinking about buying a dog during the third lockdown that “it's really important to think about what life is like now and what it will be like in the future.”
He said: “Whilst we are seeing some dogs being handed in to us that were purchased during lockdown, we are yet to see the full impact of so-called ‘lockdown puppies’ coming into our care. This may be because businesses are still being supported by the furlough scheme, people are still working from home and lockdown restrictions continue across the UK.
“However, we believe the worst is yet to come and that we will likely see more people having to give up their dog if families struggle to cope with the fallout of the coronavirus crisis or life changes for them in a way they didn’t predict.”
Mr Sharp also said that in times of financial hardship many people can struggle to cope with looking after their pets.
He said: “The number of abandoned dogs has gone up. We saw this in 2008, and we’re extremely concerned that history could repeat itself.”
The charity urges those who have found themselves in a position where they can no longer care for their dog to avoid selling their puppy online. They should instead contact Dogs Trust or another rescue organisation, it added.
The RSPCA, which said it has already started to see the impact of lockdown pets, also warned that it is "bracing for more animals to be abandoned in the coming months," according to the Yorkshire Post.
A spokesperson told the paper: "We're really concerned to hear many puppies are being sold on having been bought during lockdown and we're saddened that our fears appear to be coming true.
"We were worried that many families who found themselves at home with time on their hands during lockdown would make impulse decisions to take on pets and now, just a few months on, would be seeking to rehome their new dogs after realising how much commitment they are, having run into financial difficulties due to the pandemic, or because they've returned to work and no longer have time for them.
"We're bracing for more animals to be abandoned and handed into rescue centres over the coming months as families realise they can't take care of their new pets, and this will have a huge impact on the charities left to pick up the pieces despite facing their own challenges as a result of Covid-19."
Last month, Dogs Trust also warned that a high demand for dogs during lockdown has driven puppy prices up by more than four or five times their usual value, leading to fears of a surge in the illegal puppy trade.
Illegal breeders have been cashing in on the demand for pandemic puppies, with dog farmers stepping in to fill the supply gap.
Despite the warnings, people are continuing to use social media sites to buy illegally bred puppies without any information about the animal’s background.
Watch: Are people complying with lockdown rules?