Bulldog
An owner with their bull terrier at Crufts in 2015. Pet owners will be the focus of RSPCA prosecutionsGetty

The RSPCA will focus its efforts against pet owners rather than huntsmen and farmers as it overhauls its controversial animal cruelty prosecution policies.

The charity is the country's largest private prosecutor and it will start to use the Oxford English Dictionary definition of suffering to ascertain whether it would pursue legal action.

It has faced criticism for overzealous inquiries based on court cases that would raise publicity for its fundraising.

But the charity will stop pursuing prosecutions where they have been accused of a conflict of interest. These include red-coat hunts and farms and they will leave such cases to the police and local authorities. It will also stop prosecuting animal sanctuaries if a licensing regime is introduced.

But the RSPCA, which successfully prosecutes more than 1,300 people a year, is in talks to give inspectors the right to seize animals under the Animal Welfare Act which critics fear would blur the line between its role as a charity and a state enforcer.

Asked who would now be left for the RSPCA to bring to court, one legal source told The Times: "Owners of companion animals, and hoarders."

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, welcomed the reforms but told the newspaper that the RSPCA was not tackling the fundamental issue of whether it should prosecute at all.