Keeping you and your dog safe in the countryside

Pet owners are advising people to be aware of potential hazards when walking their dog in the countryside this summer.

Snake bites, insect stings, grass seeds and heatstroke are just some of the problems dogs may encounter in rural areas.

For some dogs, it may also be the first time they have encountered livestock or horses and this can result in serious problems if the dog chases or injures animals it encounters.

To help dogs and their owners enjoy the countryside this summer, insurer NFU Mutual has produced the following advice.

The adder is the UK’s only venomous snake and will occasionally bite dogs if disturbed. In 2012, the average cost of a claim paid by NFU Mutual for a dog being bitten by a snake was £584 and the majority of incidents occurred in July.

Although they are rarely fatal, adder bites can be painful and distressing for dogs so it’s important that owners know how to recognise an adder and know what to do if their dog is bitten.

* Most adder bites occur between March and October when the snakes are most active.

* The adder has a dark zig-zag stripe running along its back, making it easy to recognise.

* If you see an adder while out on a walk, keep your dog on a lead and well away from the snake.

* If you are walking in an area where adders are known to occur, keep your dog on a lead and keep to the path.

* If your dog is bitten it is important to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible – carry the dog rather than allowing him to walk as this will slow down the spread of venom.

* If you are on holiday, make sure you find out the number of the local vet at the start of your holiday and have this to hand in case of emergency.

Although they may look innocent, grass seeds getting caught between a dog’s paw or in its eyes or ears can cause painful and expensive problems.

This is an extremely common problem during the summer months and, as with many things, prevention is better than cure.

In 2012, the average claim paid by NFU Mutual for the removal of a grass seed was £458 with the most expensive operations costing £2,000.

To avoid the problems associated with grass seeds:

* Trim the hair around your dog’s paws and ears.

* Check your dog’s coat, ears, eyes and lip folds for grass seeds after a walk and remove them.

* If the grass seed is in sensitive area or you are worried that you may injure the dog or cause it pain by attempting to remove it, consult your vet.

* If your dog shows signs of discomfort such as head shaking, rubbing its ears or eyes or chewing at its feet, it’s possible it may have a grass seed lodged and you should consult your vet.

The summer months provide an ideal opportunity for people to visit the countryside with their dogs; however, for many dogs, this may be the first time they have encountered livestock or horses and may chase or injure animals they encounter.

In 2011 there were almost 700 cases of sheep worrying in the UK and NFU Mutual estimates the cost of sheep worrying to be in the region of £1million. Add to this the number of injuries to horses attacked or frightened by dogs and subsequent injuries to riders who have been thrown from their horses and the scale of the problem in the countryside becomes clear.

Dog owners have a responsibility under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act to keep their dogs on a lead in the vicinity of livestock; however, it is always good practice (and a legal requirement on ‘Open Access’ land) to keep your dog on a lead around farm animals and horses, for your own safety and for the welfare of the animals.

* Follow paths unless wider access is available, such as on open country or registered common land.

* Keep your dog on a lead, or keep it in sight at all times, be aware of what it’s doing and be confident it will return to you promptly on command.

* Dogs may be banned from certain areas that people use, or there may be restrictions, byelaws or control orders limiting where they can go.

* The access rights that normally apply to open country and registered common land require dogs to be kept on a short lead between March 1 and July 31, to help protect ground-nesting birds, and all year round near farm animals.

* At the coast, there may also be some local restrictions to require dogs to be kept on a short lead during the bird breeding season, and to prevent disturbance to flocks of resting and feeding birds during other times of year.

* However, if cattle or horses chase you and your dog, it is safer to let your dog off the lead – don’t risk getting hurt by trying to protect it. Your dog will be much safer if you let it run away from a farm animal in these circumstances and so will you.