Prevention of Dog Bites
Background on Dog Bites
An estimated 4.5 million dog bites occur annually in the U.S. This estimation may be low because not all victims of dog bites report the incident and/or seek medical attention for the injury.
Although dog bites can be unprovoked, dogs may bite for a variety of reasons that aren’t overtly apparent. The cause may be as basic as the dog not feeling well or being in pain due to illness or injury. Regular veterinary care can help monitor and maintain an animal’s health. The dog also could be stressed and bite to defend itself, its territory or something of value to it, like a puppy, food or toys. The animal may have been startled or feel scared or threatened.
Socialization Reduces Likelihood of Dogs Bites
A dog owner can help make their pet feel more at ease in various situations—and thereby reducing the chances of a bite incident—by aiding the animal with the process of socialization; this process prepares the dog to be comfortable interacting with people and other animals and responding in different situations. The “sensitive period” for socialization in puppies is between three and 14 weeks of age. Generally, puppies should remain with their litters until eight weeks of age. Another way dog owners can help prevent dog bites is by not allowing their dogs to run loose. Some examples are keeping the animal contained via a fenced yard or having it on a leash when going for walks. Regularly walking and exercising a dog also helps keep it healthy and mentally stimulated.
Tips to Avoid Being Bitten
There are many tips, including those listed below, that you can follow to avoid being bitten. Children are more likely to be bitten than adults, so it is imperative to teach them these suggestions as well.
- Avoid interactions with unfamiliar animals. Do not move toward an unfamiliar dog.
- Respect the dog’s body language. If it appears tense or nervous, keep your distance. If it tries to avoid you by walking away, allow it to do so. If the dog is growling or snapping, do not approach it.
- Do not make sudden movements or high-pitched noises, as they might stimulate the dog’s predator instincts.
- Allow the dog time to get used to you before petting it. Prior to attempting to pet a dog, ask the owner’s permission to do so. Do not approach a dog from above its head.
- Do not reach over a fence to pet a dog.
- If a dog appears to be confrontational, do not make direct eye contact with it or start running from the dog or screaming at it.
- Report bites to the proper officials, such as the local rabies control authority, animal control officer or local health department employee. For children, a teacher or parent is a good reporting resource.
- Do not pull the dog’s ears or tail; climb on the animal’s back or try to ride it; tease it, including taking its toys, treats or food; bother the dog while it is sleeping or eating; run past the animal; or bother a mother dog while she is tending to her young.
- Do not leave babies or young children unsupervised with a dog.
Have dogs and cats sterilized to reduce overpopulation. This aids in decreasing the
number of stray animals and lowers the risk of being bitten and potentially being
exposed to rabies.
What To Do If Approached by an Unfamiliar Dog
- Remain calm and still, and do not make loud noises.
- Do not make direct eye contact.
- Stand with the side of your body facing or partially facing the dog. Do not directly face the dog.
- Slowly raise and place your hands to protect your neck while keeping your elbows in toward your body.
- Say “no” or “go home” in a firm voice.
- After the dog passes, slowly and calmly back away.
What to Do if Bitten or Attacked
Place an item, like a purse, bag or jacket, between you and the attacking dog.
- If the dog knocks you down, curl into a ball with your head tucked in and your hands over your ears and neck to protect them.
- If possible, go to a safe place away from the biting dog to prevent further attacks and injuries.
- If available, get the owner’s contact information so the rabies vaccination status of the animal can be verified by the attending physician, hospital, local animal control/local
rabies control authority or local law enforcement.
- Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water as promptly as possible. Additionally, apply a virucidal agent, such as povidone-iodine solution (if available and not allergic to it). This is one of the most crucial measures to take for prevention of infection and rabies if bitten by an animal. However, even after implementing this step, you still need to seek advice from a physician and public health professional on the need for rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP).
- Seek medical advice and/or examination from a healthcare provider. A physician will decide on the need not only for PEP but also for antibiotics and tetanus prophylaxis (tetanus is caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani). Once the wound has been examined and cleaned, a physician also will determine if a wound should be closed. Stitching the skin with hopes of producing a smaller scar may increase the risk of the wound becoming infected. Dog bites have a high potential for infection, including spreading bacteria such as Streptococcus, Staphylococcus (including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), Pasteurella and Capnocytophaga canimorsus.
- Report the bite to your local animal control/rabies control authority.
Dog Bite Prevention Week
The purpose of this article is not to make people fear dogs or feel that no dog can be trusted, nor is the goal to suppress the humane care and treatment of dogs or to discourage adoption of dogs. Dogs provide us with faithful companionship, comfort and protection. They decrease our stress levels and motivate us to exercise. Plus, there are countless dogs at shelters deserving of loving and caring homes. However, there are an estimated 78 million dogs in U.S. households, so contact with dogs and the possibilities of bite incidents are feasible. National Dog Bite Prevention Week occurs annually during the second full week of April. The goal of this week is to educate people on how to prevent unfortunate encounters with dogs and potential bite scenarios.
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Pam wilson, LVT, MEd, MCHES, works at the Texas Department of State Health Services in the Zoonosis Control Branch.