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Dog Bite Prevention

Dog Bite Prevention

April 7-13th 2024 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. A staggering 4.5 million dog bites (dogs biting people) occur each year and nearly half of these cases are children. Not all bites are serious or fatal; however, severe bites can cause death and roughly 15 children in the United States die from injuries caused by dog bites each year. Most bites occur to the arms or hands, but bites to the face, especially in small children can cause serious damage. Unsurprisingly, large dogs with strong jaws tend to cause the most damage and are most often involved in bite incidents (Pitbulls, Rottweilers and German Shepherds are the top 3 breeds and nearly 70% of bites are caused by unneutered males).  However, ANY dog can potentially bite. It is not the dog’s breed that determines whether or not it will bite, but rather the individual dog’s history and behavior.

What causes a dog to bite?  Typically, a bite occurs when a dog is frightened or stressed, if he is trying to protect territory or resources or if he is startled or in pain.  Dogs may also nip or bite when playing or overstimulated.

How can we protect our pets and our families?  Socialize dogs as early as possible so they are comfortable in a variety of situations and teach basic commands to your dog.  Take your dog for regular veterinary visits and keep rabies vaccines up to date.  Obey leash laws and make sure fences and gates are secure. Do not allow dogs to roam free without supervision.  Consider neutering male dogs if appropriate.

Be aware of your dog’s body language and be alert to any signs that your dog is stressed or anxious as these are the situations in which a bite is most likely to occur. Watch for signs like lip licking or snarling, whale-eye (the whites of the dog’s eyes are visible, they look wide and frightened), pinned back ears, tail down or tucked under the body and tense posture. Growling, snarling or snapping are also obvious warning signs that a dog may bite but, in many cases, signs are more subtle and a bite can happen in seconds. Keep dogs secure during mail or package delivery and consider posting a “dog on premises sign” to alert people to your dog’s presence.

Also teach children good habits when interacting with dogs. Dogs should NEVER be left alone with a baby or young child. Even the nicest, sweetest dog could potentially bite if startled or provoked. Teach children not to bother dogs while sleeping or eating, not to pull their tails or ears otherwise tease them and not to get close to a dog’s face. Do not approach stray or unknown dogs, do not try to pet dogs over or through a fence and always ask an owner if it is OK to approach before attempting to pet someone’s dog.

If you are approached by a strange dog, remain still and calm. Do not run, do not make eye contact and do not yell or scream. Try to slowly back away. If the dog lunges at you or knocks you down, curl into a ball and protect your face and neck.  If you are bitten, wash the wound and seek medical attention as soon as possible. If an owner is present, find out if the dog has a current rabies vaccination. If your dog has bitten someone, restrain and remove the dog safely and immediately.  Help the person clean the wound if possible and encourage them to seek medical care or call 911 if appropriate. Provide rabies vaccine information and your contact information to the victim. Seek veterinary consultation if aggression is out of character for your dog.

               Dog bites can be scary but, with proper socialization and training and by teaching children and people to be respectful of dogs, most bites can be prevented. The good news is that dog bites have decreased over the past few decades, but continued vigilance and awareness are needed to continue to reduce bite incidents and keep pets and people safe. 

               This blog brought to you by the Patton Veterinary Hospital serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.