Dog attacks estimated to cost more than £115,000 in Northern Ireland

Dog attacks on farm animals across Northern Ireland cost over £115,000 in 2020, according to new statistics released by rural insurer NFU Mutual this week.

A recent survey of dog owners commissioned by NFU Mutual revealed 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 more people walking in the countryside as Covid restrictions continue and an increase in dog ownership, we have seen horrific attacks resulting in large numbers of sheep being killed and a trail of horrific injuries,” said Martin Malone, Northern Ireland manager 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 wellbeing. It’s vital that dog owners act responsibly and keep dogs on a lead whenever there is a possibility livestock are nearby.”

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

Malone 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 chasing or attacking livestock.”

UFU deputy president David Brown said: “Livestock worrying has always been an ongoing concern for our members, but it has heightened even more due to the increase in dog ownership and with more people venturing to the countryside to exercise.

Rural areas are there for everyone to enjoy but as a farmer, it is extremely frustrating to see dogs being let loose by their owners, especially in areas where livestock reside.

“With spring lambing approaching ewes are heavily pregnant and any chase by dogs no matter how small can result in a ewe aborting her unborn lambs.

“No matter the breed or size, every dog is a threat to livestock and owners need to be extremely cautious. This is vital particularly when their pet is not familiar with farm animals.

“The essential approach is for dog owners to make sure their dog is on a lead at all times and that they have complete control. This is the only way to ensure no harm comes to livestock and that walkers and their pets can enjoy the countryside peacefully.”

Dog attacks cost £1.3 million across the UK

In 2020, the UK cost of dog attacks on livestock reached an estimated £1.3 million – an overall increase of over 10%.

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.

In Northern Ireland, local Council dog wardens investigate and respond to livestock attacks as per the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, Art 28.

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;
  • 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.