Dog Bites

Dog Bites

We have about 55 million dogs in the U.S., and most of them will never bite a human.

Bite wounds are problematic because they have the potential for multiple complications.

First, we have to deal with the trauma from the bite itself. Second, there’s a possibility that organisms from the soil or the dog’s mouth will infect the bite. A few days after the bite, we worry about secondary bacterial infection from skin flora or water organisms. And lastly, there’s always the possibility of a systemic infection, like tetanus or rabies, being transmitted with the bite. Dog bites are a source for tetanus, because a dog’s mouth frequently harbors organisms that traditionally live in the soil.

Who Bites Whom, and When?


We have about 55 million dogs in the U.S., and most of them will never bite a human. But some dogs are aggressive and will bite–and data shows that usually, these dogs will bite repeatedly.

CDC estimates ~ 4.7 million dog bites/year in the U.S. with 800,000 seeking medical care–334,000 in an emergency department with 6000 hospitalizations. Fatality data from 1979-1994 shows that we have an average of 15 deaths/year due to canine bites.

Children ages 5-9 years are the most likely to be bitten, and nearly half of the bites occur in children 14 years of age and younger. Boys are bitten more often than girls. Most bites happen in July. Usually the bite is on the arm or hand, but in children, the most common site for a bite is the face and neck. Strikingly, half of the total bites occur on the owner’s property by an “unrestrained dog,” and the most common narrative noted in patients’ charts was this: “Bitten by The Family Dog.”

Responsible dog ownership helps prevent bites and liability.

The CDC and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have been proactive in educating physicians and veterinarians on how to manage canine bites. The AVMA has a task force on Canine Aggression, which released an excellent opinion paper in 2001 with advice to communities on how to build an infrastructure to keep members of the community safe. Both organizations are quick to point out that responsible pet ownership is really the key in preventing dog bites.

In 2005, the state of Colorado enacted Statute 13-21-124, which states in summary that dog owners are liable when their dog bites a person and causes serious injury or death, regardless of whether the owner knew the animal’s potential for viciousness, provided that the person bitten was on the owner’s property legally.

Any fatality from canine bites is gut wrenching, as the death is unnecessary–as is the morbidity suffered by patients who no longer have use of their hand or who may be badly facially disfigured–many of whom are children.

With responsible pet ownership and learning how to recognize aggressive behaviors in dogs, you can protect your children. Get advice from good trainers and veterinarians about how to purchase an animal correctly, how to socialize it, and how to recognize animal behavior–particularly aggressive behavior. Singling out specific breeds as “particularly aggressive” or worse than other breeds leads to a false sense of security. Any dog can bite under the right circumstances, even your family dog.
Bitten by the Family Dog!

A little about bite wounds…

Bite wounds are problematic because they have the potential for multiple complications.

First, we have to deal with the trauma from the bite itself. Second, there’s a possibility that organisms from the soil or the dog’s mouth will infect the bite. A few days after the bite, we worry about secondary bacterial infection from skin flora or water organisms. And lastly, there’s always the possibility of a systemic infection, like tetanus or rabies, being transmitted with the bite. Dog bites are a source for tetanus, because a dog’s mouth frequently harbors organisms that traditionally live in the soil.

Who bites whom, and When?

We have about 55 million dogs in the U.S., and most of them will never bite a human. But some dogs are aggressive and will bite–and data shows that usually, these dogs will bite repeatedly.

CDC estimates ~ 4.7 million dog bites/year in the U.S. with 800,000 seeking medical care–334,000 in an emergency department with 6000 hospitalizations. Fatality data from 1979-1994 shows that we have an average of 15 deaths/year due to canine bites.

Children ages 5-9 years are the most likely to be bitten, and nearly half of the bites occur in children 14 years of age and younger. Boys are bitten more often than girls. Most bites happen in July. Usually the bite is on the arm or hand, but in children, the most common site for a bite is the face and neck. Strikingly, half of the total bites occur on the owner’s property by an “unrestrained dog,” and the most common narrative noted in patients’ charts was this: “Bitten by The Family Dog.”

Responsible dog ownership helps prevent bites and liability.

The CDC and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have been proactive in educating physicians and veterinarians on how to manage canine bites. The AVMA has a task force on Canine Aggression, which released an excellent opinion paper in 2001 with advice to communities on how to build an infrastructure to keep members of the community safe. Both organizations are quick to point out that responsible pet ownership is really the key in preventing dog bites.

In 2005, the state of Colorado enacted Statute 13-21-124, which states in summary that dog owners are liable when their dog bites a person and causes serious injury or death, regardless of whether the owner knew the animal’s potential for viciousness, provided that the person bitten was on the owner’s property legally.

Any fatality from canine bites is gut wrenching, as the death is unnecessary–as is the morbidity suffered by patients who no longer have use of their hand or who may be badly facially disfigured–many of whom are children.

With responsible pet ownership and learning how to recognize aggressive behaviors in dogs, you can protect your children. Get advice from good trainers and veterinarians about how to purchase an animal correctly, how to socialize it, and how to recognize animal behavior–particularly aggressive behavior. Singling out specific breeds as “particularly aggressive” or worse than other breeds leads to a false sense of security. Any dog can bite under the right circumstances, even your family dog.

Some dogs bite when they are forced to remain in an untenable situation, and they have no ability to escape.
Do you recognize the warning signs in this photograph?Do you recognize the warning signs in this photograph?
Obviously, this dog is a significant danger to this child.

CDC Recommendations

“Dog owners, through proper selection, socialization, training, care, and treatment of a dog, can reduce the likelihood of owning a dog that will eventually bite… Properly socialize and train any dog that enters the household. Teach children basic safety around dogs.”

Summary

As a dog owner and wife of a dog trainer, I am confused when I watch owners pay lots of money for expensive dog food, doggie day care, dog beds, dog clothes, chew toys, fences, electronic collars, and shampoo; yet, they fail to prioritize manners and training. I watch their dogs attack other dogs and people, run away, bark incessantly, nip, jump, pee on the rugs, and dominate anybody who enters the house or yard.

As a physician, my most sincere recommendation is that you protect your family and avoid liability by budgeting for proper training. Considering the data, it’s wise to consider training as one of the many expenses of responsible animal ownership.