The RSPCA and police are investigating the death of three pets found lying dead beside their smashed-up hutch.
Diane Smith left her rabbit and two guinea pigs at her Dawlish home for three days while she visited family.
When she returned home on Thursday, their bodies were lying head to toe in a circle and the double hutch and run had been smashed.
The RSPCA believes the animals may have been strangled, suffocated or could have died from shock.
Insp Marija Zwager said: "It is possible that if they were inside the hutch when it was smashed up around them they could literally have died of fright."
Door-to-door inquiries by animal cruelty inspectors and police officers have revealed three boys aged about 14 or 15 were seen in the garden shortly after the family left, but it is not known if they are linked with this incident.
Miss Smith said she was grateful the discovery was not made by her children.
"I don't understand what sort of person would want to torture or kill a defenceless animal.
"What they have done made my lovely animals suffer but will also cause my children distress and I still do not know how I am going to explain this to my youngest who is four.
"I keep thinking it is just a horrid dream which I will wake up from."
Anyone with information is urged to contact the RSPCA.
The charity said even if healthy animals are left with plenty of food and water - as they had been in this case - it would always recommend the pets are checked on a daily basis, perhaps by a friend or neighbour.