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Epidemiology of Dog Bites

Epidemiology of Dog Bites

If you watch the news, you may have the impression that dog bites are frightening but relatively rare events. You may be surprised to learn that the Center for Disease Control and prevention (the CDC) has reported that, on average, 4.5 million people in the United States suffer a dog bite for which they require medical attention every year. In fact, it’s been estimated that half of the US population will be bitten by a dog over the course of their lives. Children are two times more likely to be bitten by a dog. And these are not feral strays encountered in the street; for the most part, they are familiar dogs.

Dog Bites

This results in an enormous number of emergency room visits – in 2008 alone, approximately 316,000 people went to the emergency room seeking treatment for a dog bite. Further, roughly 9,500 of those visits resulted in admission to the hospital and the percentage of patients admitted to the hospital for a dog bite was more than 3 times greater than those who came to the emergency room for treatment of other injuries.  These numbers only reflect the number of dog bites that were reported to either medical or law enforcement professionals and researchers believes that, roughly, only 17% of dog bites are reported.

Who are the most likely victims? According to Dr. Jon Fraser, a member of the Texas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, by the time young people are seniors in high school, half of them will have been bitten by a dog.  A study of dog bites incidents from 1979 to 2005 showed that victims younger than one year accounted for nearly 11% of the deaths and 56% were less than 10 years of age. In fact, nearly 30% of those who received fatal injuries were from 1 to 4-years-old. And the stature of a child who is bitten in comparison to an adult must be kept in mind. A dog that might bite an adult on the foot or leg can stand nearly eye-to-eye with a small child. It’s easy to understand why, at Houston’s Texas Children’s Hospital, most of the patients who undergo reconstructive surgeries to treat dog bites are children who had been bitten on the face and experienced severe lacerations, infections and scarring that could serve as a daily reminder for the rest of their lives.

It’s important for you to be not only aware of which dogs are considered to be the most “dangerous,” but also to be aware that although certain breeds receive a great deal of media attention, singling out one or two breeds does not just do those breeds an injustice, but can blind you to the fact that, depending on the situation, all dogs are capable of aggressive behavior. And if communities, including property managers and landlords, put breed-specific (such as a pit bull-type dog, Rottweiler, and Doberman pinschers) restrictions in place, they ignore the smaller or seemingly docile dogs that may be just as much or even more of a problem.

While there are breeds that have been specifically bred to increase their aggressive tendencies, in addition to heredity, there are several other factors that play a role in the likelihood of a dog biting someone. One of the most important traits is the animal’s sex; 80% of dogs found to be aggressive by veterinary professionals are unneutered males. A 2001 study by the American Veterinary Medical Association found that nearly 80% of dogs involved in dog bites incidents were “intact” males. In addition, a dog’s early experiences in terms of training, socialization, abuse/neglect,health, and owner supervision also have key roles in determining that animal’s tendency to bite.