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The Informed Parent

When Man’s Best Friend Bites

by Laura Murphy, M.D.
Published on May. 19, 2003

Each year about four million Americans are bitten by dogs, with nearly one quarter of these bites requiring medical attention. Of note for the informed parent, roughly 18 deaths occur per year from dog bites, and most of these are children. Although any breed might bite, certain breeds are more likely than others. In one study looking at dog bite fatalities from 1989-1994, the most commonly reported breed involved was Pit Bull, followed by Rottweiler and German Shepard. As for how bites happen, review studies show that most victims are simply involved in normal activities when bitten. Over half occur on the dog owner’s own property. For this common and sometimes unavoidable problem, the question remains: what to do if your child is bitten and what can you do to prevent dog bites in the first place?

Never hesitate to bring your child in to be seen after a dog bite. The combination of the tendency towards puncture and crush-type wounds with the bacteria in the dog’s mouth leads to a high risk of infection. When your child is seen, first the physician will probably ask about the events surrounding the bite: Was the dog provoked? Do you know the owners? Has the dog had all of his shots? You also may be asked about your child’s tetanus status. The wound may need to be cleansed and thoroughly irrigated with saline to prevent infection, and any loose or dead tissue may need to be removed. Deeper wounds might need more extensive management. For example, deep puncture wounds might affect bones and joints. Whether or not the wound should be sutured depends on the situation as sometimes it could actually increase the risk of infection. This decision is at the discretion of the examining doctor. Often your child will receive antibiotics unless the wound is very superficial and the risk of infection appears low. You will probably have to return for a recheck in one-to-two days for the wound to be reevaluated.

Both parents and children can be involved in the prevention of dog bites. Parents can focus on choosing the right dog for their family and making sure they have the time and interest in training the dog properly. They can avoid aggressive play with the dog such as wrestling, and also be quick to respond to any signs of aggression exhibited by the dog. It is also important to never leave young children or infants unsupervised around a dog.

Children can also be taught how to be safe around dogs. They can be taught not to run after dogs, but to let the animal see and sniff them first. Children should understand not to attempt taking things away from a dog, not to surprise it, or not to run screaming away from the animal. If you have friends with a well-behaved dog, you might encourage your kids to practice their dog skills around an animal that you trust.

It is important to know what to do in the event of a dog bite, and to educate yourself and your kids on how to prevent one. It is also important to remember that most dogs don’t bite, and are valuable members of the family. Dogs love unconditionally and certainly have earned the esteemed title “Man’s Best Friend”.




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