DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE

Fatal Dog Attacks

ATLANTA & WASHINGTON--Dog bite injuries can lead to serious infections (such as tetanus and rabies), disability, deformity, and occasionally death. Most of these injuries are preventable.

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Humane Society of the United States recently updated data on fatal dog bites for the period 1989 to 1994.

In the 6-year study published in the medical journal PEDIATRICS (Vol.97 No. 6, 891-5), Jeffrey J. Sacks, M.D. and associates reported the finding of 109 bite-related fatalities. They found that 57% of the deaths were in children under 10 years of age. 22% of the deaths involved an unrestrained dog OFF the owner's property. 18% of the deaths involved a restrained dog ON the owner's property, and 59% of the deaths involved an unrestrained dog ON the owner's property.

The researchers also found that 10% of the dog bite attacks involved sleeping infants.

The most commonly reported dog breeds involved were pit bulls (24 deaths), followed by rottweilers (16 deaths), and German shepherds (10 deaths). The authors point out that many breeds, however, are involved in the problem.

The death rate from dog bite-related fatalities (18 deaths per year) in the 6-year study period remained relatively constant compared with the prior 10 years.

The authors emphasized that "most of the factors contributing to dog bites are related to the level of responsibility exercised by dog owners." They recommend public education about dogs and dog ownership. In this regard, the authors suggest the following guidelines for parents and children:

PARENTS

  • Consider the selection of any dog carefully. Speak with a professional to make an informed decision. Ask questions about the dog's background. Involve the family in the selection; be sensitive to cues that a child is fearful or apprehensive about a dog (if so, delay getting the dog). Spend time with a dog before bringing it into your home. Use caution about bringing a dog or puppy into the home of an infant or toddler.


  • Dogs should be sterilized to reduce aggressive tendencies.


  • Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.


  • Make certain that any dog entering the household receives proper training and socialization. Try to teach submissive behaviors such as rolling over to show stomach and taking food away without growling.


  • Dogs with prior histories of aggression should not be considered appropriate for families with children.


  • Teach children basic safety around dogs and review these ideas regularly.


  • If your dog develops aggressive or undesirable behaviors, seek professional help immediately.


  • Don't play aggressive games with your dog such as wrestling and "siccing."

CHILDREN

  • Never approach an unfamiliar dog.


  • Never play with a dog unless supervised by an adult.


  • Immediately report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior to an adult.


  • Never run from a dog and scream.


  • Avoid direct eye contact with a dog.


  • Don't disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.


  • Don't pet a dog without letting it see and sniff you first.


  • Remain motionless when approached by an unfamiliar dog.


  • If knocked over by a dog, lie still and remain in a ball.


  • If bitten, report the bite to an adult immediately.

The authors add in conclusion that "it is important to recognized that most of the 52 million dogs in this country never bite or kill anyone. However, the problems caused by the highly visible minority of animals and their owners have far-reaching consequences."


Last Editorial Review: 5/2/2002