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SRUC Vets Appeal for Considerate Dog Control as Lambing Time Approaches

2nd March 2015

With lambing time approaching, vets from Scotland's Rural College are reminding dog owners to keep their pets under close control near livestock and to avoid going near sheep at all, if possible. The vets say their role with SRUC means they see at first hand the devastation a normally friendly companion can cause to a flock.

Many of SRUC’s vets work in the eight Veterinary Surveillance Centres around Scotland where they investigate the causes of death in livestock or wildlife. Hannah Orr is one such Veterinary Investigation Officer working in Aberdeen.

"We’re vets because we love animals," she says. “We know how great dogs can be but we also examine the horrific injuries and see the stress they can inflict on ewes and lambs. The majority of owners are very responsible and would not knowingly allow their pets to distress or injure livestock. But you can never tell what might happen and it is best to take extra care at this time of year.”

Hannah’s colleague Marion McMillan, a vet with SAC Consulting Veterinary Services office in Ayr is married to a sheep farm manager from Girvan and has her own personal story about what dogs can do.

One day they found six lambs from a flock being fattened outside with head wounds so bad the lambs had to be put down. During the lambing season later that year eight young lambs were found with badly crushed heads, while several ewes had wounds suggesting they had tried to defend their young.

“It was really shocking because it was very different from anything I had seen before,” she says. “We did try to treat some sheep from the first incident but eventually had to put them down. I know not every dog would behave like that one, but sheep are vulnerable when they are heavily in lamb even a dog thinking its ‘playing’ by chasing pregnant ewes can cause problems later.”

Dog owners need to be vigilant and pay careful attention to any signs placed by farmers or landowners beside footpaths and gates. If entering a field of sheep keep dogs on a short lead (two metres or less) or close at heel. Walk a good distance from the livestock. The same applies on more open moorland or hills with sheep or cattle about.

The SRUC vets are appealing to dog lovers to consider the welfare of livestock as well as their own valued companions.

“Sheep are particularly vulnerable in the run-up to lambing,” says Marion. “Unborn lambs put on about two-thirds of their birth weight in the final six weeks of pregnancy. The simple act of a dog running about in a field of sheep can harm the health of their unborn lambs and cause stress leading to miscarriage and death. Our SRUC colleagues researching animal welfare tell us the stress a pregnant ewe suffers is not only passed to her lamb but that lamb’s offspring as well.”

According to Hannah Orr Scotland’s outdoors is a beautiful place for dogs and their owners and everyone can enjoy the countryside if dogs out on a walk are responsibly controlled.

“But an out-of-control dog chasing sheep causes the sheep to move away at speed and flock together for protection. Rapid movement usually attracts the dogs’ attention and most will follow their basic instinct and run after the sheep. If a dog does not obey an owner’s call to come back, or the owner isn’t present the dog’s next move may be to physically attack and even kill sheep.”

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