Dogs escaping from gardens add to ‘devastating’ cost of attacks on farm animals

A sheep recovering after being attacked by a dog in Attleborough. Photo: Bill Smith

A sheep recovering after being attacked by a dog in Attleborough. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Bill Smith - Archant

Farm animals worth more than £190,000 have been savaged by dogs in the East of England during the past four years – prompting a new campaign for pets to be kept under control.

A sign on a Norfolk footpath aimed at preventing farm livestock from attack by dogs. Picture: Lauren

A sign on a Norfolk footpath aimed at preventing farm livestock from attack by dogs. Picture: Lauren de Boise - Credit: Archant

Rural insurer NFU Mutual's latest claims figures have been released during the lambing season, which is the peak time for dog attacks.

Although its research suggests more dog owners are putting their pets on leads when livestock are nearby, the insurer is 'increasingly concerned' by reports that many attacks are being caused by dogs which have been let out in gardens, escaping and attacking sheep in neighbouring fields.

One in six owners admitted their dog had escaped from home, says an NFU Mutual survey, while a growing number (52pc) are allowing their pets to go out in the garden unaccompanied when there is no-one else at home – up from 43pc last year.

Known as livestock worrying, dog attacks on farm animals can result in horrific and often fatal injuries. Even if a dog doesn't make contact, the distress of the chase can cause sheep to die and miscarry their lambs.

Rebecca Davidson is rural insurance specialist at NFU Mutual, which insures nearly three quarters of the UK's farms.

'While it's encouraging news that more people are putting their dog on the lead while out in the countryside, dog attacks are still at a very high level,' she said. 'We are receiving increasing reports of local dogs escaping from homes and attacking sheep, either because their owners do not know or do not care that their dogs are roaming wild and causing havoc.

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Thousands of sheep are being killed and horribly mutilated by dogs and we will be redoubling our efforts to raise awareness of the issue, and helping police to bring owners of dogs which attack livestock to justice.

'For the East of England's small farmers in particular, livestock worrying is devastating because it has a huge impact on their livelihood.'


NFU Mutual's research says 87pc of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with more than 60pc letting them roam off the lead – down from 64pc in 2018. If there is a sign warning that livestock is in a field, more people (95pc) are putting their dogs on the lead than in 2018 (90pc).

The study also says most dog owners supported measures to crack down on the problem of livestock worrying, with 75pc saying they would support heavy fines, 66pc would support a ban on dogs from livestock fields during lambing season, while 57pc would back laws enabling DNA testing of dogs and 42pc would support owners being banned from keeping dogs if their pet had been involved in an attack.

Across England, NFU Mutual estimates the total cost of dog attacks on livestock at almost £3.5m, based on claims reported from 2015-2018. The East has the lowest regional total at £191,267, compared to the South West with £1,018,651.

The peak time for attacks is from January to April and, with many families expected to visit rural areas in the coming months, dog owners are urged to keep their pets on a lead at all times in the countryside, and the insurer says out-of-control dogs should be reported to a local farmer or the police.


• Always keep dogs on the lead when walking them in rural areas where livestock are kept.

• Be aware that even small lap dogs can attack and kill farm animals.

• Report attacks by dogs and sightings of dogs roaming the countryside to local farmers or the police.

• Familiarise puppies with farm livestock from a young age to reduce the risk of them attacking sheep or cattle as adult dogs.

• Don't let dogs loose in gardens adjoining livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby.