Monday, May 23, 2011

Dog Bites are Preventable when Caution is Used

By Patrick Miles, DVM

May 15-21 was Dog Bite Prevention Week. According the AVMA, approximately 4.7 million people in this country are bitten by dogs every year.  Children are by far the most common victims.  800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites each year.  Children are far more likely to be severely injured.  Approximately 400,000 receive medical attention every year, and an estimated 30,000 require reconstructive surgery.  Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
Working in the veterinary field, we certainly encounter dog bites to humans a number of times each year.  Many of the bites occur because the patient/dog is nervous, scared, or injured.  Despite all our training and experience, injuries still occur.
There are multiple factors involved when a dog bite occurs.  Responsible pet ownership is the biggest preventive measure.  It is imperative to not assume your dog will not bite.  There are so many situations that can occur that are outside the pet owner’s control.  Knowing the environment your dog is in helps to anticipate these situations. Most dog bites, in my experience, do not occur due to maliciousness, but are often spontaneous reactions. If your dog is a nervous dog, or has the propensity to bite, do not take them to high traffic areas.  Look into additional training or behavior modification. 
 As mentioned, children are the most at risk in the population.  Dogs can easily become nervous around a child who rushes up to a dog, is face to face, wants to hug or kiss the dog, etc.  A group of children may be playing, running, yelling and screaming which can excite some dogs and trigger a herding instinct. Or a young child may physically hurt a dog by pulling or tugging at the dog. Children often think that since their own dog is very friendly, that all dogs are friendly and will act similarly as their pet.
Another preventive measure to help control bites is to keep your dog on a leash around others or outside the home. However, a leash still won’t prevent a bite and should not give a false sense of security. I often see owners allowing their dogs to run off leash under the assumption that they know their dog.  However, you don’t know the other dog that is off leash and you don’t know that the person your dog approached is not going to react in a way to trigger a bite. We see a number of bites that occur when owners are trying to separate their dogs that have gotten into a fight.  We have also seen situations in which the person on the end of the leash was either too young or too small to be able to control the dog. 
Additionally, it is important how you act around unfamiliar dogs.  Warn your children not to approach an unfamiliar dog and to always ask owners if you can pet the dog before doing so.  If an unfamiliar dog approaches you off leash the AVMA advises to simply stop and stand still.  Do not yell, do not run, and do not try to pet the dog. Do not approach an injured animal, but call the local animal control agency.
If you are bitten by a dog, here is a checklist of things you should do as recommended by the AVMA:
  1. If the dog's owner is present, request proof of rabies vaccination, and get the owner's name and contact information.
  2. Clean bite wound with soap and water as soon as possible.
  3. Consult your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if it's after office hours.
  4. Contact the dog's veterinarian to check vaccination records
  5. Contact the local animal control agency for additional information regarding local ordinances.  They may be able to enforce or impose fines if necessary
In general, dog bites will never go away but can be significantly reduced in following simple common sense steps. 

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