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

The warning follows the latest figures from NFU Mutual which show the UK cost of dog attacks on livestock increased more than 50 per cent in 2022 totalling £1.8 million, compared to pre-pandemic 2019 (£1.2m).

And estimates based on claims data from the UK’s leading rural insurer show farm animals in Wales worth almost £440,000 were killed or severely injured by dogs last year.

Owen Suckley, NFU Mutual Wales Manager, said: “The Easter holidays see many people exploring the beautiful Welsh 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 Wales, 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 sadly 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.”

Rob Taylor, Wales Rural and Wildlife Police Crime Coordinator and NPCC Livestock lead, added: “Everyday in the UK we witness needless attacks on livestock by dogs, whether it’s a pet that has escaped from an insecure garden or an irresponsible and naive owner who doesn’t believe that they need to use a lead when walking their dog near sheep.

“These attacks, where hundreds of sheep are brutally killed across the UK each year, are wholly preventable with a bit of common sense and care.

“The police will continue to take a robust stance against these offences, but we also ask the public to please do the right thing a use a lead near livestock and ensure if left alone your pet is secure.”

The warning comes after NFU Mutual’s survey of more than 1,100 dog owners found that despite 64 per cent of owners admitting their dogs chase animals, almost half (46 per cent) believe their dog was not capable of injuring or killing livestock.

Nearly two thirds of owners (64 per cent) say they let their dog roam off-lead in the countryside.

However, almost four in ten (39 per cent) admit that their pets do not always come back when called.

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