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Warning for dog owners: cows are more dangerous than you think

News / / Bristol

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, there has been a significant increase in dog ownership in the last couple of years. According to an online survey conducted in 2021, it was estimated that 12 million dogs were living in UK homes in that year. This has inevitably led to an increase in novice dog owners accessing the countryside.

In turn, this has raised concerns for dog and owner safety, as they may not be aware of the dangers presented by livestock such as cows. Whilst we would not immediately think of cows as a ‘dangerous animal’, they can be territorial and aggressively protective of their young, and they are of course large, heavy animals that often move in groups.

Unfortunately, cows can cause serious injury, or even death, if they are provoked to stampede. In 2018 to 2019, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) apparently investigated 43 incidents involving people being hurt or killed by cattle. A dog was present in 18 of the 43 incidents reported, mainly with members of the public on footpaths. In eight cases, the dog was reported to be on a lead. Sadly, the body of a man feared to have been trampled to death by cows was found in Hampshire earlier this week, and at least two members of the public were trampled to death by cows whilst dog walking in 2020.

The good news is, dog owners can take simple steps to keep themselves, and their pets, as safe as possible. On the National Farmers Union website, they suggest that, to stay safe around cattle walkers should consider the following guidance:

  • Stay vigilant, especially when entering a field - you may not be able to see the whole field.
  • Cows are inquisitive animals. If cattle follow you try to stay calm and walk quickly and quietly round the herd.
  • Don't get between cows and their calves. Walk round the herd and re-join the path when safe.
  • If you have a dog, keep it on a short lead around cows and sheep, but release if threatened by cattle so you can both get to safety separately. 
  • If you feel threatened by animals protecting their territory or young, don't panic or run. Move to the edge of the field and, if possible, find another way round.

Of course, livestock and/or landowners may owe a duty of care to walkers, particularly when they are using a public right of way. Ideally, livestock should be kept in fields with no public right of way, but this can sometimes be difficult to control.

Famers should consider, when deciding where to graze cattle, that dairy cattle are generally considered to be more volatile that beef cattle, and that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) bans farmers from keeping certain breeds in fields crossed by public rights of way. Landowners must also keep fencing and gates in good repair, and arguably provide adequate warning signs if necessary.

In conclusion, farmers, walkers and dog owners working together could be the best way to prevent further tragedies.

Our Personal Injury team have worked on several cases of significant injury caused by stampeding cows and livestock, and understand the devasting effects this can have on people and their pets.

For more information and advice, please get in touch with a member of our Personal Injury team.

Sophie Hamilton

Sophie Hamilton Senior Associate

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