Sheila Voas, Chief Veterinary Officer for Scotland's Blog - 31 July 2019

Sheila Voas, Chief Veterinary Officer for Scotland.

Access to the countryside is fantastic both for improving human health and wellbeing, and pet ownership has been shown to also benefit human health and wellbeing. So, what better way to spend an hour or two than by taking your dog for a walk in the countryside? And of course, in Scotland we are fortunate that our access legislation and the ‘Right to Roam’ allows us, subject to certain rules, to do just that. But let’s pause a moment and think about it from the other perspective.

The countryside is the workplace for our farmers and land managers and so when we enter their “office” we should be aware of the problems that we can cause. As well as the standard advice about leaving gates open or closed as you find them, and not walking through crops there are some additional things to consider when taking a dog into the countryside.

Firstly, please remember dogs are, instinctively hunting animals, especially when in a pack, and it is in their nature to chase other animals. This can lead to illness and injury which can go far beyond the distress of seeing sheep killed or bleeding from bite wounds. As well as these immediate physical results of livestock worrying there are also the longer term, less visible effects.

At certain times of the year being chased may lead to sheep aborting their lambs, or the exertion can lead to heat stress or cardiovascular problems. Sheep which have been chased may be separated from their lambs leading to ‘mis-mothering’ resulting in lambs starving; panicked sheep may run into water and drown, or over cliffs or crags resulting in broken limbs. In order to avoid this dogs, no matter how well behaved normally, should be kept on a lead when near livestock. And it’s also important to remember that newly calved cows can be very protective mothers, so it is wise to avoid entering spaces where there are recently calved cows or giving them a very wide berth if there is genuinely no other route available. Keeping dogs on a lead also helps to protect ground nesting birds and other native wildlife.

But it’s not just about dogs chasing livestock or other animals. There are certain parasites and infections that can be spread from dogs to cattle and sheep (and other livestock) and these can be very damaging both to the individual animals and to the farm’s productivity. For that reason, it is essential that dogs are treated with an appropriate wormer regularly – at least every six months - to reduce the risk of them transmitting the worms. Speak to your vet about which one is best for your situation. Regular worm treatment is also good practice from a human health perspective as some worms that are carried by dogs can also infect us.  

Another example of a parasite spread by dogs is Neospora, which dogs pick up through eating infected meat - can you really be certain your dog doesn’t ever chew on a placenta (afterbirth) or dead rabbit when out and about? This is then spread to livestock through dog faeces, either in the grass or in feed crops such as hay, silage, roots or cereals. Neospora has very few clinical signs in dogs but in cattle it can cause abortion and stillbirths in those which have eaten materials contaminated by it, and once in a herd it can spread amongst animals. The only way to prevent this parasite being passed on is to minimise contact between cattle and infected dog faeces, so poop scooping is just as important in fields as it is in built up areas or parks. And please, dispose of the bag properly - don’t leave the bag attached to the fence or in a nearby tree!

With common sense and good manners, following a few simple rules, it is possible for everyone to enjoy our countryside, while respecting that for some it is a place of work.

NFU Scotland is running a 12-month campaign – Control Your Dog on Farmland – which seeks to encourage walkers to keep their dogs on a lead and under control whilst walking on or near farmland and to pick up after their pets no matter where they are.

More information on the campaign, can be found at:

If publicising this blog, or campaign on social media please use the hashtag #ControlYourDog and tag @nfustweets on Twitter or NFUScotland on Facebook.

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