Seven times more XL bullies in Britain than Government estimated

A brown XL bully dog stands outside in nature with his tongue hanging out
Up to 20,000 XL bully dogs are in the UK unregistered and are on the streets illegally - Shutterstock/Alexandre Bauer

Britain has seven times more XL bullies than the Government estimated, official figures show.

The Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) believed there were 10,000 XL bullies in England and Wales, but the Government’s chief veterinary officer has clarified there are about 70,000.

The latest data comes after 55,000 of the dogs were registered for an exemption certificate, which allows owners to keep their animals provided they adhere to certain rules, such as the dogs wearing a muzzle in public.

A further 15,000 to 20,000 of the breed are thought to be unregistered and on the streets illegally.

Restrictions on XL bully ownership were introduced on Feb 1, 2024 after a series of attacks involving the breed.

Government officials said there have been at least 23 deaths caused by dog attacks since the start of 2021, with XL bullies “disproportionately involved”.

It is now illegal to own an XL bully, sell, abandon, give away, breed or walk one without a lead and muzzle.

Animal welfare charities have said the Government’s failure to understand the scale of ownership when the ban came into force is now causing issues.

The Association of Dogs and Cats Homes said the sharp rise in the number of XL bullies being given up, abandoned or confiscated since the new law came into effect means rescue centres in Britain are becoming overwhelmed.

David Bowles, a trustee of the charity, which has 166 rescue centres in the UK, said: “I think we are also getting to a stage where the police kennels and local authority shelters or pounds are also at capacity so there is no other space left.

“I don’t think the Government worked this through. They hugely underestimated the spaces they needed. It’s a real worry now as to where the dogs are going to be housed.”

Some XL bully owners, unable to find anywhere to take their pets, are abandoning them on the streets, which can pose a danger to the public.

Veterinary charities said they are also becoming drowned with requests to castrate XL bullies, which is one of the requirements owners must meet to legally keep their pet.

XL bullies that were more than a year old when the ban came into force must be neutered by the end of June.

If Defra has not received neutering confirmation by this date, the owner’s certificate of exemption will become invalid, which could mean they are at risk of a criminal record.

Dermot Murphy, of the RSPCA, said: “We remain strongly opposed to breed specific legislation and, instead, want to see the Government commit to improving and enforcing the current breeding and dog control regulations, and to promote responsible dog ownership.”

In a statement, Defra said: “We are continuing to engage closely with veterinary, rescue and rehoming organisations to monitor the impacts of the XL bully ban.”