Every year, more than 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs, and more than half of all victims are younger than age 14. Almost one in five of those who are bitten require medical attention for related injuries. Even the cuddliest puppy can bite if provoked, and most people are bitten by their own dog or one they know.
During the summer months when families and pets are spending more time outdoors, the Emergency Department at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBIMC) is providing suggestions for greater dog safety.
“Among children, the rate of dog bite–related injuries is highest for those ages 5 to 9 years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” says Adam Sivitz, MD, Medical Director Pediatric Emergency Medicine at NBIMC and Children's Hospital of New Jersey. “And children are more likely than adults to receive medical attention for dog bites than adults,”
Following are tips to help parents protect their children from a painful encounter with a dog:
- Pick a good match when choosing a family dog. Certain breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, are recommended as generally safe with children. Other breeds might not be the best choice for young children. One 5-year (2001–2005) review of dog attack victims admitted to a children's hospital in Pennsylvania determined that pit bull terriers were implicated in more than half of the bites.
- Socialize your pet. Gradually expose your puppy to a variety of people and other animals so it feels at ease in these situations.
- Train your dog. Avoid aggressive games like wrestling or tug-of-war.
- Vaccinate your dog against rabies and other diseases.
- Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.
- Teach your child to check if the dog is with an owner and looks friendly. Then ask the owner for permission to pet the dog. Let the dog sniff your child and have your child touch the dog gently, avoiding the face, head and tail.
- Tell your child not to bother a dog if it is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
- Tell your child not to run past a dog.
- If you are threatened by a dog, remain calm. Avoid eye contact. Stand still until the dog leaves or back away slowly. If you are knocked down, curl into a ball and protect your face with your hands.
- If a dog bites your child, clean small wounds with soap and water and seek medical attention for larger wounds. For serious wounds, contact authorities and tell them everything you can about the dog: the owner’s name, the color and size of the dog, and where you encountered the dog.
“We would much rather give preventative tips than see any child admitted to our hospital for an injury,” says John A. Brennan, MD, MPH, President and Chief Executive Officer of NBIMC and CHoNJ.