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UK cost of dog attacks up by 50% since pre-pandemic

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·       NFU Mutual figures reveal cost of UK dog attacks on livestock up 50% since pre-pandemic

·       Pregnant ewes and new-born lambs at peak risk from out-of-control dogs this Easter

·       Farmer tells how multiple dog attacks on her flock are causing sheep deaths and leaving lambs orphaned

·       NFU Mutual calls for owners to prevent carnage and suffering by keeping dogs on leads near livestock

As people prepare to flock to the countryside this Easter, NFU Mutual is urging all dog owners to keep their pet on a lead wherever livestock may be nearby.

The warning follows the latest figures from NFU Mutual which show the cost of dog attacks on livestock increased more than 50% between 2019 and 2022.

Last year the leading rural insurer found UK farm animals worth an estimated £1.8 million were severely injured or killed by dogs compared to £1.2 million in pre-pandemic 2019.

NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist Hannah Binns said: “The Easter holidays see many people exploring the Great British countryside, but they must remember these idyllic rural destinations are key to farmers’ livelihoods and are home to millions of sheep and new-born lambs.

“This year’s lambing season is underway across the UK, so it is crucial all dog owners act responsibly by keeping their dog on a lead in areas where livestock are nearby, especially near vulnerable sheep and lambs.

“The Covid-19 pandemic saw many people owning dogs for the first time, but tragically this has been followed by a sharp increase in the cost of livestock attacks.

“It is hard for people to imagine their friendly family pet could chase, injure or kill another animal - but all dogs are capable of this, regardless of breed or size.

“Even dogs chasing sheep can have serious consequences. We’ve heard reports from farmers where sheep and lambs have drowned, suffocated, been run over or chased off cliff edges because of out-of-control dogs.

“Even if a dog does not make contact with a sheep, the distress and exhaustion from being chased can cause a pregnant ewe to miscarry or die. It can also separate young lambs from their mothers, which can lead them to become orphaned.

“If there is an attack, it is important people accept responsibility and report it, either to the police or a local farmer, so that the injured animals are not left suffering.”

The warning comes after NFU Mutual’s survey* of over 1,100 dog owners 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.

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.

In England, the Midlands was the worst-hit region by cost, with dog attacks on livestock costing an estimated £313,000, followed by the South West (£273,000).


Case study:

For fifth generation farmer Isobel Connell (Nee Bowden), ‘devasting’ dog attacks on sheep are having the biggest impact on her family farm’s business, with new incidents occurring nearly every week.

The farm, situated within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the Chiltern Hills, has been plagued with livestock worrying incidents for years, but the Covid-19 pandemic and rise in dog ownership has seen more frequent attacks.

Just last week, Isobel discovered three dead ewes in one field that had been chased to exhaustion overnight by escaped unsupervised dogs.

The post mortem revealed all three sets of lungs were frothing from over exertion where they had been chased for so long over the course of the night until they collapsed and died, leaving behind 6 orphan lambs.

"It was heart-breaking to hear the orphaned lambs bleating next to their dead mothers", Isobel said.

But the worst attack, which took place in April 2016, saw 66 lambs killed and 19 ewes in a single field by two loose Labradors one night.

“We walked into Armageddon that day, and my father and I were both brimming with tears at the sight of destruction before us as we had to gather up what we could to give the surviving injured animals treatment to try and save them. It was horrific seeing so many sheep with limbs torn off, some still alive” she said.

“It is gut-wrenching to rear these animals from birth and find them savagely injured and killed, you cannot imagine the needless suffering they have endured.

“The worse fatalities seem to be those where the dogs are unsupervised and can keep chasing and attacking until they tire themselves out, so it is important dog owners make sure their pets are secure at home to stop these preventable incidents from happening.”

Isobel adds her family have campaigned for years for dog owners to use leads, from putting up signs in all fields warning that sheep are grazing, to sharing information on social media to local resident groups so that people are aware and the need to put dogs on a lead.

“There is one field in the Hughenden Valley near Wycombe that we have never grazed throughout our 10-year farm business tenancy there because we simply cannot risk our sheep’s lives by putting them in there. We have nicknamed another field "Death Valley" as there were six separate incidents in one just day,” she said.

“Recently we moved some sheep into this field and within 15 minutes, I got a phone call saying there had been an attack due to a dog being off its lead and the owner completely ignoring our seven A3 signs around the field stating that sheep were out there.

“I can’t understand if people love their dogs so much, surely, they should want to protect them by simply using a lead and securing their properties at night. This is such a simple action to take and would save not only the lives of livestock but their dogs as well.”

She adds the incidents have also had a huge financial toll on the business, costing them a fortune in veterinarian bills and signage which people ‘rip down’.

With many dog owners planning to visit the 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.

Further information:

Hannah Binns, Rural Affairs Specialist

07779 992619 

About NFU Mutual:

NFU Mutual offers a wide range of products, including general insurance, life, pensions, and investments. These products and services are delivered through our network of NFU Mutual Agent offices, as well as through our direct sales and service centres. With 295 local businesses located in rural towns and villages throughout the UK, NFU Mutual has become part of the fabric of rural life and remains committed to serving the needs of our members nationwide.

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