THE machine-gunning of a cat in the opening episode of the new series of 'Love/Hate' sparked more complaints than a double murder depicted in the previous season.
The new series is already a hit, with 970,600 people tuning in for the first instalment.
But seven disgruntled viewers called RTE and 10 more emailed complaints to the station after the episode opened with a cat being machine-gunned to death.
And the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals called the scene "sick and horrendous".
The broadcaster issued a statement that "no animal was harmed during the making of 'Love/Hate' series four".
By comparison, an episode in the previous series, featuring the fatal shooting of a man and a woman, sparked five complaints.
'Love/Hate' writer Stuart Carolan has previously spoken about viewer sensitivity to anything involving animals.
"There was one particularly horrific scene in the first series, in which Hughie (Brian Gleeson) murders a Traveller in his caravan. I can't overemphasise how important that scene was to me in terms of establishing the depravity of that situation. Yet I anticipated a viewer reaction that never came. We had far more complaints about the scene in which Luke killed a swan."
Animal Rights Action Network called on fans to boycott the series after the cat scene.
But an RTE spokeswoman said that the cat was at all times under the supervision of an experienced animal handler. She said the blood was computer generated and no fake blood was used near the cat.
The cat was anaesthetised by a vet to ensure it 'played dead'.
The season premiere beat last season's dramatic climax, when an average audience of 953,000 watched hitman Darren, played by Robert Sheehan, get shot point-blank in the head.
In addition to last Sunday's ratings, a total of 23,700 people caught up with the episode on RTE's dedicated +1 channel, an hour after the IFTA-winning programme returned.
'Love/Hate' director David Caffrey told the Irish Independent he was both "delighted and surprised" by the high figures.
'Love/Hate' continues on RTE One next Sunday at 9.30pm.