Research Update: Factors relating to dog bite injuries: Identifying pointers for prevention

Research Update: Factors relating to dog bite injuries: Identifying pointers for prevention

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Aug 01, 2009

Dog bites are one of the most common nonfatal injuries occurring in the United States. Estimated medical costs in 2001 for an estimated 370,000 people who required emergency room treatment after a biting injury was about $100 million.1

In this retrospective study, the traits of biting dogs and characteristics of injured persons and dog owners were examined to identify factors for use in public health prevention activities. The year-long (2002-2003) data were obtained from Animal Control Services in a populous (677,813 residents) Oregon county. During the study period, 47,526 dogs were licensed in the county, and 636 dog bites were reported.

The highest incidence rates for biting dogs were terrier (e.g. pit bull types), working (e.g. rottweilers), herding (e.g. German shepherds), and nonsporting breeds. Sexually intact males and purebreds were also associated high-risk factors. Biting dogs were more likely to live in neighborhoods with an annual median income below the county median of $41,278, and boys between the ages of 5 and 9 had the highest rate of injury.

While the study's authors acknowledge the statistical limitations (inaccurate reporting of bites and licensing data, breed misrepresentation) of their study, they conclude that preventive measures could be formulated by medical, veterinary, and social agencies to reduce human injury from dog bites, especially in disadvantaged communities. The authors also note the responsibility of dog owners in limiting the aggressiveness of their pets, especially around children.

COMMENTARY

The results of this study provide important evidence regarding the identity of dog bite victims and perpetrators as well as geographic location of these attacks. In another study cited by the authors,2 factors contributing to dog bite injury were low-income neighborhoods; large, protective dogs; inadequate fencing and dog control; and communal outdoor activities for children. The results of these two studies are in agreement and should guide animal control agencies to promote steps in reducing the risk of injury to children, especially in low-income neighborhoods. These actions could include increased fencing of yards, neutering of male dogs, and adoption of less aggressive small breeds. It would also be valuable to know the incidence rates of dog bites from specific breeds for two populations closely associated with animals in the workplace: veterinarians and their staff and postal workers. For practitioners, the data in this study will serve as a reminder for caution when handling these types of dogs from such neighborhoods, as well as offer support for recommending neutering of male dogs and adoption of less aggressive dog breeds, especially in families with children.

REFERENCES

1. CDC. Nonfatal dog bite-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments—United States, 2001. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2003;52:605-610.

2. Beck AM, Loring H, Lockwood R. The ecology of dog bite injury in St. Louis, Missouri. Public Health Rep 1975;90:262-267.

Shuler CM, DeBess EE, Lapidus JA, et al. Canine and human factors related to dog bite injuries. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2008;232(4):542-546.


Joseph Harari, MS, DVM, DACVS
The information in "Research Updates" was provided by Veterinary Medicine Editorial Advisory Board member Joseph Harari, MS, DVM, DACVS, Veterinary Surgical Specialists, 21 E. Mission Ave., Spokane, WA 99202.