Dog Bite Incidents RisingPosted: February 3, 2011
Dog Bites Are On the Rise
If you love dogs, you may find this latest report unsettling — but you should be aware of its findings. New data from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows a surge in the number of people requiring hospitalization for dog bites. In 2008 (the latest year that’s been tallied), dog bites accounted for 866 emergency department visits and 26 hospital admissions each day, on average — that’s a total of more than 300,000 for the year and an increase of 86% compared with reported dog-bite incidents in 1993.
Why Are They Biting?
I spoke with Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, director of Animal Behavior Consultations at Westwood Animal Hospital in Westwood, Kansas. He told me that the data didn’t delve into why hospitals are seeing such an increase in patients with dog bites, but he provided theories as to what might be happening…
Two trends may be feeding into the problem:
Larger dog breeds have become more popular and, of course, bites from bigger dogs are more dangerous. According to the American Kennel Club, labradors are now the most popular breed of dog… German shepherds are among the top 10 and rising… and mastiffs and Rhodesian ridgebacks are also becoming more popular. While there’s no data on which dogs are biting all the people who end up in the hospital, it’s obvious that when bigger dogs bite, their victims are more likely to require medical treatment because the wounds are more severe. Larger jaws with bigger teeth inflict more damage.
Second, dogs spend more time alone than they used to because most families now require two incomes. Dr. Hunthausen said insufficient training and socialization may be a factor in the increase in biting incidents. “Genetics play a role in a dog’s behavior, but so does environment,” he explained. “With family members home less today than they used to be, dogs may spend too much time alone without receiving the socialization, exercise and mental stimulation that they need.”
Who’s in Harm’s Way?
Young children and elderly people are in the greatest danger. Children between the ages of five and nine make the most emergency department visits for dog bites… and adults over 65 and children under five are most likely to be hospitalized. “Young children are at face level with large dogs, and a bite to the face is more serious than a bite to the thigh or leg,” Dr. Hunthausen said. And, said Dr. Hunthausen, “elderly people have skin that’s easily torn and might require stitches, and their immune systems may be weaker than younger people’s and more susceptible to infection.”
Living in the country increases risk. In 2008, people in rural areas made four times as many emergency department visits and had three times as many hospital admissions for dog bites as people in urban areas. “Dogs are more likely to run free in rural areas, and when they run together, they are more likely to develop a pack mentality and practice predatory behavior,” said Dr. Hunthausen. “Attacks by a pack can easily cause very serious injuries.”
Don’t Play Around
Be proactive in protecting yourself around unfamiliar dogs. Keep your distance, and don’t assume a dog is friendly.
If you’re bitten by a dog, clean the wound immediately with warm water and mild soap. Contact your doctor or go to a hospital emergency department even if the bite doesn’t seem serious, says Dr. Hunthausen, since bacteria below the skin could cause trouble a few days later.
It’s also very important to identify the dog so that you can make sure it’s been vaccinated — otherwise you will need to receive a series of shots to be sure you’re safe from rabies.
Dogs may be man’s best friend — but it’s important to remember that they must be treated with great caution.
Source(s): Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, pet behavior consultant and lecturer, director, Animal Behavior Consultations, Westwood Animal Hospital, Westwood, Kansas. He is coauthor of Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, and developed the award-winning video, Dogs, Cats & Kids: Learning to Be Safe with Animals.