Distracted dog owners who believe their pets would never attack farm animals are putting sheep in the South East at risk of horrific and fatal injuries, new research from NFU Mutual reveals.

NFU Mutual’s latest survey* of over 1,100 dog owners released today (Tuesday 7 February) found that despite 64% of owners admitting their dogs chase animals, almost half (46%) believe their dog was not capable of injuring or killing livestock.

Many dog owners are unaware that even if their pet doesn’t make contact with a sheep, the distress and exhaustion caused by being chased can trigger a pregnant ewe to die or miscarry. Young lambs can also become separated from their mothers.

Nearly two thirds of owners (64%) say they let their dog roam off-lead in the countryside. However, almost four in ten (39%) admit that their pets do not always come back when called.

The harsh reality of some dog owners’ failure to control their pets is evident in the latest figures based on claims data from NFU Mutual.

The rural insurer estimates farm animals in the South East worth £210,124 were severely injured or killed by dogs in 2022, making it the third highest English region by cost.

Dog attacks on farm animals estimated to cost £1.8m in 2022

Across the UK, dog attacks on farm animals were estimated to cost £1.8m in 2022. The Midlands was the worst-affected English region and the South West was the second.

Hannah Binns, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist said: “It’s clear that a significant number of dog owners in the South East are blinded by their love for their pets and believe that they would never chase, attack or kill livestock.

“We’ve heard reports from farmers that dog walkers are becoming more distracted, often on their mobile phones with their pets out of sight and are seemingly unaware of the carnage their dog could cause.

“The Covid-19 pandemic saw a boom in dog ownership as many people purchased puppies for the first time, yet these may not have been trained properly or be familiar with farm animals.

“It is concerning that these now fully-grown dogs will be visiting farmland as we get into spring at a time when pregnant ewes and newborn lambs are vulnerable.

“Farmers near cities, towns and our many tourist areas, as well as those farming the Commons in the New Forest, are also living in fear of repeat attacks, which cause horrific suffering to sheep and can traumatise their families as they deal with the aftermath.

“That is why we are calling for dog owners to be responsible and accept their pets, however friendly, are capable of chasing and attacking farm animals and should be kept on a lead when walked anywhere near livestock.”

With many dog owners planning to visit the South East’s countryside as the weather improves and at a time when sheep are at their most vulnerable, NFU Mutual is calling for them to:

  • Keep dogs on a 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 cause the distress, injury and death of farm animals
  • Report attacks by dogs to the police or local farmers
  • Never let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby

*1,119 UK dog owners were interviewed by PetBuzz between 22/12/2022 and 06/01/2023.

By Ed

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