Irish cat owners have been warned to keep their  pets indoors amid fears they will be used as bait in dog fights.

An animal welfare charity made the warning in Derry after several cats went missing.

Helen Davies, founder of the Eglinton animal shelter in Creegan said her organization has received several calls from pet owners reporting their pets missing.

And she said one of her staff had actaully seen one of the cat thieves in action. The man first lured the cat with an open tin of tuna and was about to use his cat trap and a black bag to spirit the cat away when the staff member intervened.

"She approached him and he took off,”  Davies said. 

She said they have also also been made aware of illegal dog fights that take place throughout the city and worry that the missing cats may be used in the blood sports. 

“We fear they may have been trapped and used as bait for cruel bloodsports with lurcher dogs. We are urging cat owners to keep their pets indoors and to alert us of any suspicious activity," said Davies. 

“These people are using traps which are long steel cages to trap the cats using a lure of cat food or tuna."

Davies said the number of missing cats is "creeping up" by the week. 

“One woman rang us who has now had three cats who have gone missing on her. It is very, very worrying that people may be stealing cats," she said. 

“Creggan does seem to be a problem now and there was a problem there a couple of years ago too. People would think it was safe enough to let their wee cats out as they are quite independent and people think they can look after themselves, and then they are broken-hearted when their cats go missing.”