In a land that’s most famous for its glittering beaches and clear seas, tapas plates and flamenco dancers, Moorish palaces and soaring sierras, some travelers can be shocked to find that there are oodles of stray dogs in Spain – some 800,000 of them by some estimations!
Yep, it turns out that this sunny corner of Europe is actually one of the worst performers when it comes to dealing with stray animals, and travelers looking to hop across to the Costa del Sol or the rolling hills of La Mancha should probably prep themselves for encounters with lone canines, since they are such a common issue in the nation.
This guide runs through all you need to know about stray dogs in Spain. It outlines just how many individual strays there’s likely to be in the country as of 2023, where you’re most likely to encounter them, what to do if you do, and what organizations are working to combat the issue. Let’s begin…
How many stray dogs are there in Spain?
The truth is that no one really knows how many stray dogs currently live in Spain. That’s really down to the very fact that they are stray. These are animals that aren’t registered, aren’t linked to specific owners, are rarely attached to a veterinary surgery, and are free to roam the streets as they please. There are some places in the country where the stray populations are managed, most notably in larger cities like Madrid and Barcelona, however there’s still no central database that counts the number of strays overall.
That said, one pretty gruesome estimation has it that as many as 300,000 domestic animals (that’s mainly cats and dogs) are abandoned in the country each year. Sadly, most of those won’t live very long, but it paints a picture of a stray population that’s pretty out of control, and potentially close to a million individual animals. In fact, the European Society of Dog and Animal Welfare (ESDAW) says that there are now certainly over 800,000 stray dogs in Spain. That makes Spain the country with the highest population of strays in the whole of the EU, and the worst in Europe after Turkey and the Ukraine.
On top of all that, it’s been estimated that the overall number of dogs being abandoned in Spain year on year has shot up in the years following the COVID pandemic to the tune of 25%, likely due to an economic downturn and a cost of living crisis.
Will I see stray dogs in Spain?
That all depends on where you choose to go. Stray animals aren’t actually all that visible in bigger cities in Spain. You can explore the whole of historic Madrid for days and days on end and not happen upon a single lost dog during that time, for example. The same goes for mid-sized towns, from Cadiz all the way to Valladolid. The main reason for that is the fact that many municipal offices have dedicated departments that focus on keeping strays off the streets and in the pounds.
The upshot? You’re much more likely to run into the stray dog population of Spain when you travel to the more rural parts of the country. One of the main reasons for that is the abandonment of animals that tends to happen towards the end of the hunting season each year. We’ll talk more about that a little later, but suffice to say here that it can see tens of thousands of individual dogs added to the stray population in a matter of months.
On top of that, rural areas aren’t as well patrolled by animal rights groups looking to rehome strays or government-funded bodies that work to capture and neuter the strays. That means stay populations can be left to grow and multiply away from major cities and towns.
The hunting season problem
It’s almost impossible to talk about stray dogs in Spain without touching on the hunting season. Running from October to around February, the period is a boom time for dogs on the Iberian Peninsula, as farmers make use of a few select breeds (largely Podenco Ibicenco, Podenco Andaluz and Galgo Español) to chase down all manner of large and small game.
Problem is, once the hunting season is done and dusted, the worst-performing, weakest, and oldest dogs in the pack are often simply abandoned on the streets. And we’re not talking just a few individuals each season. Some think that hunters regularly abandon up to 75% of their dogs this way! It’s thought that the finish of the hunting period can add something in the region of 50,000-100,000 dogs to Spain’s stray population almost overnight.
Are stray dogs a problem in Spain?
Yep – the population of stray dogs in Spain is seen as a major problem by big animal rights groups and organizations. ESDAW notes the emotional hurt felt by an animal that’s not given the proper care, while others go as far as to say that acceptance of stray populations on a societal level is tantamount to institutionalized animal abuse. Adding to that is the prevalence of hunger, disease, and malnutrition that’s palpably visible in most stray populations here.
Strays can also cause issues for the human population of Spain. These days, Spain is officially rabies free. However, it remains high risk for the disease because of its close trade links with nearby nations like Morocco, where rabies is still rampant, plus a poor domestic vaccination rate. So, it’s unlikely that stray dogs in Spain can spread disease, but it’s not impossible. Other places have reported packs of dogs in the countryside that have the potential to become violent.
The good news is that dog attacks in Spain are quite rare. Stats show that there’s something like 1.6 attacks per year on average, while expert papers reveal that “most of the dogs involved in these events are known to the victim or belong to them.” In other words, it’s very unlikely that stray dogs will directly attack humans, and even more unlikely that such attacks will end fatally.
Can I adopt a dog from Spain?
Yes! Not only are you able to adopt a dog from Spain, but animal organizations in the county positively encourage adoption as a way to make room for more stray animals to be cared for in private institutions. That’s because the council pounds that the municipal governments use to house captured strays are infamous for their poor conditions – some reports talk of 200 dogs in a single enclosure with just two employees without animal training to care for them!
That’s why dedicated animal sanctuaries work hard to get the creatures in their care adopted into good homes. A vacant space means another dog that can be taken from the Spanish streets or local pounds and into better conditions.
These days, there are countless places you can reach out to when it comes to adopting a dog from Spain, including:
- Spanish Stray Dogs – A charity that’s been running for over 10 years that aims to help foreigners adopt a stray straight off the Spanish streets.
- ACE|SHIN – Short for Animal Care Espana, ACE|SHIN currently houses up to 500 domestic animals (both dogs and cats) each month.
- Adopt A Pet Spain – An organization that helps to connect dogs with their forever home in Spain and across Europe.
- Five Circles Dog Rescue – These guys help UK dog buyers adopt dogs from Spain
Stray dogs in Spain – our conclusion
There’s certainly an issue with stray dogs in Spain. Animal rights groups estimate that the country currently houses something between 100,000 and 800,000 individual stray canines, which puts it up there with the worst-performing countries in the whole of Europe, bar the likes of Turkey and the Ukraine, and certainly among the worst-performing countries in Western Europe.
A lot of the problem is related to the abandonment of pack animals at the tail end of the Spanish hunting season, which can add tens of thousands of strays to the total number in the country in just a matter of weeks. On top of that, Spanish local government isn’t well equipped to deal with the issue, public pounds are notoriously bad quality, and there aren’t enough private institutions with enough clout to deal with the problem effectively.
As a traveler to Spain, it’s unlikely that the stray dog population will pose a significant threat, though it’s wise to avoid aggressive strays and be wary of animal-spread diseases such as rabies. You can help, though – many animal charities in the country ask for donations to aim with their care of stray dogs in Spain, while others can offer help with adopting strays straight off of Spanish streets.