May 20-26 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. Being bitten is just one of the professional hazards veterinarians face every day. In fact, I was bitten last week — very minor, couldn’t blame the dog as the whole reason I was at his house was to euthanize him because he was feeling terrible and not himself, but the episode served to remind me of how important education about dog bite prevention is.
Check out these statistics:
- Almost 5 million people were bitten by dogs in 2011 in the United States.
- Nearly 1 million people (more than half of which were kids) required medical attention for these bites.
- The problem appears to be getting worse. The number of people who were hospitalized for dog bites increased from 5,100 to 9,500 (up 86 percent) from 1993 to 2008.
- Sources: American Veterinary Medical Association and Agency for Health Care Research and Quality
The most common victims of dog bites are children who are either left unattended with and/or are playing outside with a dog that is usually familiar to them. Senior citizens are the next most frequently injured group.
Preventing dog bites requires work from both dog owners and the general public.
- Make sure puppies are properly socialized, particularly between 4 and 16 weeks of age. Puppies should get used to being around different types of people and become familiar with all of the different situations that he or she will be faced with as an adult.
- Dogs need to be well trained so that they will invariably obey basic commands like "sit," "stay," and "come."
- Never force dogs into setting where they are likely to become fearful or nervous.
- Use a leash and an appropriate collar or harness to ensure you have control in public settings.
- Keep dogs mentally and physically healthy with proper preventive care (including rabies vaccines), exercise, and pain medications when necessary.
When approaching a dog, children and adults should use the acronym "WAIT" to remind themselves of proper doggy etiquette:
W – Wait to see if the dog looks friendly. If the dog looks afraid or angry, STOP and walk away slowly.
A – Ask the owner for permission to pet the dog. If the owner says no or there is no owner present, STOP and walk away slowly.
I – Invite the dog to come to you to sniff you. Put your hand to your side with your fingers curled in. Stand slightly sideways and dip your head down so you are not looking directly at the dog. If the dog does not come over to sniff you, STOP and do not touch him.
T – Touch the dog gently, petting him along his back while staying away from his head and tail.
Here’s a final recommendation. Don’t restrain your dog (or any animal for that matter) when he or she is at the veterinary clinic. I know this can be tough. Your beloved pets are nervous and you want to reassure them, but this puts you at risk for injury. Let the veterinarians and veterinary technicians be the "bad guys." Stand nearby to offer soothing words and to get your pet to focus on you, but stay out of the range of teeth, claws, hooves, beaks, etc.
Protect yourself (and your veterinarian from potential liability) just in case your pet decides that’s it, I’ve had enough and lashes out at whomever is nearby.
Dr. Jennifer Coates