A "taskforce" has been established by the UK government to look into tackling the "deplorable" crime of pet theft.

The group will investigate what is contributing to an increase in thefts and recommend solutions to tackle the problem, according to the home secretary.

In March, DogLost – a UK charity that helps victims of dog theft – recorded a 170% increase in the crime, from 172 dogs reported stolen in 2019 to 465 in 2020.

The taskforce will be made up of officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the police.

It will also be seeking input from animal welfare groups and experts.

Stealing a pet is already a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968, with offenders facing a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "Pets are much-loved members of the family, and these reports will be distressing for all pet owners.

"Pet owners shouldn't live in fear so we've set up this taskforce to thoroughly investigate the issue and ensure that we have the measures in place to stop these criminals in their tracks."

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "Having callous thieves steal a much-loved pet is heart-breaking for families and it is deplorable that criminals seek to profit from this cruel crime.

"We are already taking action to combat such lawlessness by bolstering the police with 20,000 extra officers but this new taskforce will ensure we know how best to combat the driving forces behind this distressing crime and clamp down on the perpetrators."

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According to DogsTrust, the price for five of the UK's most sought-after breeds grew during the first lockdown – in some cases by as much as 89%.

Recent reports have suggested that this could be leading to the increase in thefts.

The police have advised that dog owners should avoid leaving their pet unattended while out in public, vary their routines when walking their dogs and should take basic security steps at home such as checking locks on doors and garden gates.

The taskforce will aim to publish its recommendations in the autumn this year.