Dog owners have been warned to control their dogs as the cost of livestock worrying claims rockets.

While the cost of livestock worrying claims has increased 67 per cent in two years, not to mention the suffering caused to sheep and lambs, 7 per cent of dog owners admit their pets chase farm animals.

With large numbers of families expected to take their pets for walks in the Welsh countryside during February half-term, leading rural insurer NFU Mutual is launching a campaign urging dog owners to keep their pets under control whenever farm animals could be nearby.

Between January and April 2017, when pregnant ewes and new born lambs are often grazing on low-lying pasture in areas more accessible to walkers, the average cost of claims to NFU Mutual more than doubled compared to the rest of the year.

The campaign follows data which shows that livestock worrying costs have increased by 67 per cent in the last two years (2015-2017) with an estimated cost to UK agriculture of £1.6m.

The wider cost to the farming industry in Wales is estimated at £135,000, while the average cost of a claim rose by over 50 per cent to nearly £1,300.

New research by the insurer has revealed that over 80 per cent of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with over 60 per cent letting them roam off the lead. Almost 7 per cent of owners admitted that their pets had chased livestock in the past.

NFU Mutual is advising farmers to check their stock regularly, put up warning signs and to ask local people to report any sightings of out-of-control dogs to a local farmer or the police.

Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Attacks by dogs are one of Welsh farmers’ worst nightmares. In addition to the suffering to the animals, attacks can have a severe financial impact. Insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, but there is a knock-on effect on farm profits when pregnant sheep chased by dogs lose lambs.

“While attacks can be caused by dogs ranging from the smallest pampered pets to the largest, fierce-looking animals, we are hearing that large husky breeds are involved in a lot of the recent cases.

“We are also getting reports that many attacks are being caused by dogs which have been let out in owners’ gardens and escaped to worry sheep in neighbouring fields.

“As the insurer of nearly three-quarters of the UK’s farmers and many hobby farmers, we understand the heartbreak and huge financial loss that dog attacks cause.”

Advice for dog owners:

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

•Even small lap dogs can attack 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 worry sheep grazing nearby