Why do cattle attack people?

cattle attacks
CC BY 2.0 Roger Kidd/WIkimedia Commons

Death or injury by cow has been a problem in the UK, a new study suggests the reason why.

Bear attacks? Shark attacks? Sure … but bovine attacks? What?

As it turns out, there have been 54 cattle attacks reported in the United Kingdom between 1993 and 2013; of those around 25 percent were fatal. And, says Dr Marie McIntyre, who co-authored a new study on the topic, "There is currently no official system in place for reporting attacks, so it is highly likely that there have been far more incidents than we know about.”

So what's going on here? While rumors of cattle attacking people have been circling about for many years in the U.K., no formal investigation has ever taken a closer look at the situation. Until now, at least, since the University of Liverpool has published a review looking into the negative interactions between the public and cattle. Thier aim? To identify risk factors for cattle attacks, and to "highlight the availability and usefulness of guidance on walking among livestock."

The main takeaway is likely this: two-thirds of the attacks reported involved dogs!

"We found that walking with dogs among cows, particularly with calves present, was a common factor for an attack," says Dr. Carri Westgarth, a dog behaviour expert at the University's Institute of Infection and Global Health. "One theory for this is that the cows may feel particularly threatened by dogs, especially if they have young to protect. People then try to protect their dogs, which can lead to a tragic incident occurring."

WIth this in mind, dog owners are being urged to remember to be extra alert with their dogs when walking near cows in the countryside. And it serves as an excellent reminder that parental instinct brings out the mamma bear in many animals, even cows.

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