Preventing Dog Bites
The nicest, most well-trained family dog may snap if it's startled, scared, threatened, angry, or hungry. Dog bites can be much more than an innocent little nip, and some require hospitalization or even surgery.
About 4.5 million dog bites occur every year in the United States — and more than half of kids bitten are under age 14. The rate of dog-bite related injuries is highest for those ages 5-9 years. Approximately 33,000 reconstructive procedures are performed every year by plastic surgeons to repair dog bite injuries.
WHO IS MOST AT RISK?
Children: Children are three times more likely than adults to be bitten by dogs.
People with dogs in their homes: Having a dog in the household is associated with a higher incidence of dog bites. Adults with two or more dogs in their households are five times more likely to be bitten than those living without dogs.
HOW CAN DOG BITES BE PREVENTED?
The Centers for Disease Control along with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Academy of Pediatrics have published guidelines to help prevent dog bites.
• Choose a dog that is a good match for your home. Consult a veterinarian, animal behaviorist or responsible dog breeder to learn what breeds of dogs would be the best fit for your household. Professionals can recommend dogs that are gentle with children, suited for apartment life if need be, which are excitable or calm, and which dogs are eager to please.
• Spend time with a dog before adopting or buying. This initial meeting with the dog often reveals any aggressive or excitability issues the dog may have.
• Spay/neuter your dog as this may reduce aggressive tendencies.
• Never leave a dog alone with a baby or toddler.
• Don’t play aggressive games with your dog.
• Socialize and train your dog. Attend basic obedience classes with the dog and continue training throughout its life.
Dog safety tips for children
There are several safety tips children should be aware of to prevent them from being nipped or bitten by dogs. Go over these strategies with children on a regular basis.
• Ask permission from a dog’s owner before petting a dog.
• Never go up to a strange dog.
• Allow a dog to see and sniff you before petting it. Avoid petting the face and tail.
• Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
• Do not run toward or away from a dog.
• Never scream at a dog.
• If an unfamiliar dog approaches you, don’t look it directly in the eye, stand still or back away slowly. If knocked down, roll into a ball and protect you face with your arms.
Teach your dog appropriate behavior
It is up to us as caregivers to provide our pets with training as to what behavior is and is not acceptable. Do not encourage aggressive or anti-social behavior and learn to recognize the beginning signs of a problem. Behavior that may seem cute as a puppy can become a problem in adulthood, Never encourage your dog to chase or attack people or other animals. The dog may not be able to understand the difference between play and real life situations and may react in an aggressive or anti-social way at an inopportune time.
IF YOU ARE BITTEN
• Wash the wounds with soap and water.
• Apply pressure with a clean towel or bandage to control bleeding.
• Seek medical help at your local ED and/or contact your doctor to report the dog bite and determine if additional treatment is required.
Following these basic safety tips can help ensure safe encounters between you and others with your dog. Always feel free to contact a local trainer or behaviorist who can help you better understand and prepare your dog to be a well balanced canine citizen.
Marthe Ann Gabey, is a board certified plastic surgeon with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians and provides care for patients in Southwestern Vermont Medical Center's general surgery department. To learn more about how SVMC and Dartmouth-Hitchcock are working together for a healthier community, visit www.svhealthcare.org. “Health Matters” is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public matters and public policy as it affects health care.