New statistics released by rural insurer NFU Mutual today (February 2) reveal the cost of dog attacks on farm animals across the UK rose by over 10% to an estimated £1.3 million last year.

A recent survey of dog owners commissioned by NFU Mutual in January 2021 reveals that 64% of dog owners are letting their pets roam free in the countryside, despite half of owners surveyed admitting their dog doesn’t always come back when called.

The research revealed that 42% of dog owners have been walking their pets more often in the countryside during the pandemic, and that 81% of survey respondents have noticed more people exercising their pets in rural areas.

"With millions more people walking in the countryside as Covid-19 restrictions continue and an increase in dog ownership, we have seen many more horrific attacks resulting in large numbers of sheep being killed and a trail of horrific injuries," said Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual.

These attacks cause unbearable suffering to farm animals as well as huge anxiety for farmers and their families as they deal with the aftermath.

"It’s a critical time in the farming calendar and there is widespread concern as we enter the peak lambing season, that there will be a surge in new visitors who are simply unaware of the countryside code or how their dog will behave around farm animals.

"We want people to enjoy the countryside as it’s so important for people’s well-being. It’s vital that dog owners act responsibly and keep dogs on a lead whenever there is a possibility livestock are nearby."

All dogs capable of attacking livestock

Alarmingly, only 40% of the dog owners surveyed accepted that their pet could cause the injury or death of a farm animal.

Davidson explained: “Even if a dog doesn’t make physical contact, the distress and exhaustion of the chase can cause sheep to die or miscarry their lambs.

"It’s important that owners realise that all dog breeds, not just the big, fierce looking ones, are capable of attacking livestock, or chasing them.

Although we had seen some encouraging decreases in the overall UK cost of livestock attacks over the last two years, sadly 2020 has seen an upward trend.

Owners’ responses to seeing dogs attacking livestock have also changed during the pandemic, with only 33% saying they would report an attack taking place to police or a local farmer.

In 2020, the worst-affected region by cost was the north east, where farm animals worth an estimated £240,000 were savaged by dogs. The next most seriously-affected areas were the midlands, south west and Wales.

With lambing season approaching and many more people planning to walk in the countryside - including those with new lockdown puppies - NFU Mutual is calling for dog owners to keep their pets under control at all times.

To make dog walking safe, NFU Mutual is issuing the following advice:

  • Always keep dogs on the lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept but let go of the lead if chased by cattle;
  • Be aware that even small dogs can chase, injure and kill farm animals;
  • Take special care to keep close control of dogs unused to farm animals;
  • Report attacks by dogs and sightings of dogs roaming the countryside to the police or local farmers;
  • Don’t let dogs loose and unsupervised in gardens adjoining livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby.