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Dog Bite Awareness

April 2021

National Dog Bite Prevention Week
National Dog Bite Prevention Week takes place during the second full week in April each year, and focuses on educating people about preventing dog bites. There is an estimated population of nearly 77 million dogs living in US households and millions of people-- most of them children-- are bitten by dogs every year. The majority of these bites, if not all, are preventable. In 2017 there were nearly 350,000 people treated at hospital emergency rooms for non-fatal dog-related injuries. Of those people, there were nearly 10,600 children two years old or younger who visited emergency rooms as a result of dog bites. In 2018, insurers paid $675 million in claims related to dog bites, according to estimates from the Insurance Information Institute.
We want to share with you some recommendations to help avoid common situations that may increase the chances of a dog bite to humans or to other animals. Many dog bites can be prevented by understanding the signals animals give when they are becoming anxious or agitated. Some of these are very straightforward, but others may surprise you. The vast majority of dogs will show subtle signs that they are uncomfortable well before they resort to biting. Most likely to be bitten are children and seniors. Children are much more likely to be bitten due to differences in impulse control and ability to understand signs that the dog is becoming increasingly uncomfortable. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, bites most commonly occur with familiar animals and can happen due to a variety of reasons.
The Dog May Bite If It Is Ill or In Pain
This is the first thing to rule out when an animal has behaved aggressively, especially for the first time. Some types of pain and illness are obvious; however many animals hide their pain relatively effectively. Chronic pain from osteoarthritis can be hard for owners to notice as they live with the animal and see it on a day to day basis. Age-related changes such as declining eyesight and hearing can also make sudden petting or interaction more startling. Combine either of these changes with a toddler who may approach rapidly and not-so-gently pet an older animal’s sore hips or back, and you have a recipe for potential pain and fear-related aggression.

The Dog May Bite If It Is Afraid
Animals can develop fear and anxiety at any point in their lives. Although some animals have a history of neglect or trauma, this is not required for them to exhibit fearful/anxious behavior and aggression. Some common signs of anxiety in dogs/cats can include: attempting to remove themselves from the situation, avoidance of eye contact, licking their lips or yawning, drooling, lowered ears, tucked or lowered tail.

The Dog May Bite If It Is Protecting Someone Or Something
Some animals will develop aggression related to resource guarding or protecting humans or things (toys/food/etc). This too can develop at any time throughout their life. Always be alert when feeding or interacting with an animal.
Tips for dealing with a dog you do not know
• Observe Where The Animal Is And Who Is With It – If the animal is alone, use caution as it can be very difficult to predict how used to interaction it will be. It is often best in cases where an animal is alone to either not interact with the animal at all or, if you are concerned that it is lost or in danger, contact animal control. Never try to make contact with an animal that is behaving neurologically abnormal.
• Ask The Dog’s Owner For Instructions – Always ask the person prior to leaning toward, touching or approaching the pet in any way. Just because the pet may appear happy and relaxed with the owner, does not mean that it will be so with you- even if you’ve met the pet previously.
• Teach Children How To Interact With Dogs – If you have a child —especially any children under 10-years-old— work on teaching them how to approach animals, when to approach them and signs that the animal is wanting a break or may be experiencing stress. Having respect for our cuddly friends can go a long way in reducing episodes of aggression and biting. There are training materials available specifically for children at www.gooddoginabox.com. They have numerous resources specifically for bite prevention.

If a dog bites a human, many people believe it must be put to sleep, as it has now “developed a taste for it.” This idea is untrue. If a dog bites a human, it is essential that the human be taken to their emergent or primary care physician to have their bite evaluated. For the animal, it should be taken to a veterinarian where it can be examined, the circumstances reviewed and a plan can be developed for the health and safety of the family, dog and the community. In some circumstances, an animal control officer may be involved. It is important to remember that if and when a dog bites, it is often, although not always, due to fear, anxiety or discomfort and may have been inadvertently provoked by someone not paying attention to its warning signs.

There are no breeds of dog that is more likely to bite than any other. There are numerous studies suggesting that breed does not accurately predict whether or not an animal is likely to be aggressive. Regardless of breed, use caution with animals you don’t know, and always pay attention to the signals that an animal is giving, even if you’ve interacted with them previously. If you’re experiencing any concerns about your pet’s behavior, contact your veterinarian for an evaluation determine if medical care or further behavioral assessment is recommended. The good news is that many times anxious or aggressive behavior can be managed well with a veterinary behaviorist or by treating the underlying disease.

Dr. Tessa Morgan

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