DOG owners have been urged to keep their pets under control when they visit the countryside over Easter, following a spate of attacks on livestock.

Known as ‘livestock worrying’, the attacks can result in horrific and often fatal injuries. Even if a dog doesn’t make contact, the distress of the chase can cause sheep to die and miscarry their lambs.

Over the Easter period, sheep with new-born lambs are especially vulnerable as they are often grazing on low-lying fields close to footpaths.

And predicted good weather for the Easter bank holiday weekend has prompted animal protection charity the RSPCA to warn dog-owners against letting their animals loose around livestock.

“Unfortunately livestock worrying incidents are not uncommon and can have grave consequences for animal welfare – and relationships between pet and non-pet owners in our rural areas – and can be stressful for the farmers involved," RSPCA inspector Keith Hogben said.

“It can be all too easy to become complacent when walking your dogs and yet this is something all dog owners should take very seriously.

"Those in charge of dogs worrying livestock can also be prosecuted – so, clearly, this is something any owner should consider when walking their dogs."

Mr Hogben said many worrying incidents were caused by unaccompanied dogs which had escaped from a home or garden, and asked homeowners to make sure their properties were secure.

Rural insurance firm NFU Mutual estimates animals worth £285,000 were savaged by dogs in Wales last year.

Research by the firm found 87 per cent of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with more than half letting them roam off the lead.

Rebecca Davidson at NFU Mutual said: “These attacks cause tremendous suffering to animals and are devastating for farmers who have to deal with the aftermath.

“Much of this heartbreak could be prevented if owners kept their dogs under control, either on a lead or secure in gardens, whenever farm animals could be nearby.

“For small farmers in particular, livestock worrying has a huge impact. While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock and the treatment of injured animals, there is a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome.”