Any Dog Can Bite
National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 18-24, 2014) is the right time to dispel myths about dog bites and take preventive measures to protect family, friends and the public health. Many believe they will only be bitten by a strange dog, but a study shows that the vast majority of victims were bitten by a dog that they knew, not a stray dog roaming the streets.
Close to 5 million people each year are bitten by dogs, and up to 1 million individuals seek medical treatment for dog bites. Children and seniors are most likely to be bitten. According to one study, half of children between 4 and 18 years of age reported having been bitten by a dog.
Dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims paid out in 2013, close to $500 million and up nearly 6% from the previous year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. They also reported that insurance companies paid an average of $19,000 per claim in 2003, but these payouts increased to more than $43,000 in 2013, and the overall number claims increased more than 45% in the last decade.
“All dogs have the potential to bite,” explains Melissa Bain, DVM, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and chief of the Behavior Service at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH). “It is important that dog owners be aware of their dog’s behavior, and to take steps to prevent bites from happening. If they are concerned, they should seek help from their veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist.”
Julie Meadows, DVM, chief of the VMTH’s Community Medicine Service states, “Our goal at the general practice level is for families to feel comfortable sharing their concerns about their dog’s behavior with their family veterinarians before a bite occurs.”
Understanding an animal’s natural behaviors is an important step in training pets and strengthening the human-animal bond. The VMTH’s Behavior Service provides consultation and behavior therapy for a wide range of behavioral problems in companion animals. Appointments are available at (530) 752-1393 or through your pet’s veterinarian. If you do not have a regular veterinarian, please call the VMTH’s Community Medicine Service at 530-752-9811 to establish a veterinary relationship for your pet.
Adults and children can learn to avoid or deal with situations that might lead to dog bites.
Drs. Bain and Meadows joins the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Humane Society of the United States in reminding pet owners and other members of the public of some tips on how to avoid dog bites:
If you own a dog
• Learn about dog bite prevention, including the basics of responsible ownership and veterinary care
• Never leave a child or baby alone with a dog without direct adult supervision
• Talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to socialize your puppy and keep it healthy
• Introduce animals to new situations gradually
• When out and about, be aware of others around you; obey leash laws
• Learn to read your dog’s body language so that you will be aware of potential situations that could lead to aggression
• Teach young children to be cautious and respectful around dogs, including those belonging to friends and family
• Respect a dog’s behavior tendencies
• Adults should teach children to respect a dog’s natural behaviors. Do not disturb an animal that is eating, resting, or caring for its puppies
If you encounter an aggressive dog
• Stay still and calm. Children can learn to stand very still and “be a post” or “be a rock” until the animal leaves
• Stay quiet, or speak in a low, calm voice
• Avoid eye contact with the animal
• Try to put something between you and the dog. If you are on a bicycle and a dog chases you, stop the bicycle and dismount. Use the bicycle as a barrier between you and the animal
• Back away slowly, and remain facing the animal until it is gone
• If you fall or are knocked down, curl into a ball and use your hands and arms to protect the face, neck and head
Who is most likely to be bitten by a dog?
• The Centers for Disease Control website contains detailed information on dog bites, a serious public health problem, including statistics on dog bite injuries and deaths, who is most likely to be bitten, and other information: http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/dog-bites/index.html
• The American Veterinary Association also contains consumer guidelines about dog bite prevention: https://www.avma.org/public/Pages/Dog-Bite-Prevention.aspx
About the VMTH Behavior Service
The mission of the Behavior Service is threefold:
• To educate veterinary students, veterinarians in behavior residency programs, veterinarians and veterinary staff, and the general public in scientifically-based humane behavior modification techniques
• To diagnose and treat client-owned animals with problem behaviors using the most current scientific and humane behavior modification techniques
• To perform and disseminate evidence-based results of research in clinical animal behavior
More information can be found on its website, Facebook, and Twitter pages.
About the VMTH Community Medicine Service
The mission of the Community Medicine Service is to provide high-quality, compassionate care as your pet’s primary care veterinarian, while training future generations of veterinarians by providing students with an enhanced learning experience at the general practice level. Community Medicine focuses on wellness care and disease prevention or management. The service emphasizes appropriate vaccinations, parasite control, proper nutrition, and behavioral tools to enhance and maintain the human-animal bond. More information can be found on its website and Facebook pages.