With more than 76 million dogs residing in United States households, it’s safe to say that Americans really like dogs. But man’s best friend isn’t always so friendly, unfortunately. Based on a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that upwards of four million dog bite incidents happen each year. Of those, nearly 800,000 required medical care in some form. Most dog bites are very minor injuries that are easy to treat, but some are more severe and may even require hospitalization.
Dog Bite Facts and Figures
It’s important to note that dog bites really are fairly rare; when they do happen, they tend to be a little nip that doesn’t break the skin. Sadly, though, young children are more likely to be the victims than other age groups. In fact, the highest number of incidents happens to children between the ages of 5 and 9, and over 40% of all dog bites happen to children under the age of 14. Even if a dog doesn’t actually bite, an attack from a dog can potentially cause injury through knockdowns or scratching with claws.
Additional research has shown that nearly half of dog bites come from dogs that are owned by the victim’s neighbors or family members. Stray dogs that roam in urban or rural areas are also sometimes a risk. Although there has long been popular speculation about certain breeds of dog being inherently more aggressive, studies indicate that this isn’t true. There is a possibility of being bitten by a dog of any breed; aggression is more likely to develop as a result of animal abuse over a stretch of time.
What Illnesses Can Come From Dog Bites?
Dog bite injuries can potentially be deep wounds, lacerations, or puncture wounds, which in themselves can be painful and require treatment; however, that isn’t the only risk associated with this kind of injury. In addition to the wound, a dog bite (or any animal bites) can pass on harmful bacteria and viruses that can lead to disease and complications. Below are some of the possible risks, diseases, and complications that are associated with dog bites:
Rabies: Perhaps the best known condition related to dogs is rabies. Rabies is a viral disease that comes from a category of virus called lyssavirus. In both humans and dogs, rabies causes inflammation of the brain that can cause spasms, paralysis, and, if left untreated, death. In many other parts of the world, dogs are the primary carriers of rabies, but in the U.S. it has been nearly eradicated because of the rabies vaccination developed in the 19th century. Most cases of rabies in the U.S. today come from bats.
Capnocytophaga canimorsus: This complexly named pathogen is a normally occurring bacteria that is found in the gums of dogs and cats. It can be transferred via being bitten, licked, or even just being in close proximity to the animal. Most people are resistant to the effects of being infected by C. canimorsus, but it can cause illness in people who have weakened immune systems or other pre-existing health conditions. If untreated, the infection can lead to a variety of severe complications, including heart attack, sepsis, kidney failure, or gangrene.
MRSA: Short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA is a bacterial infection that can be passed from dogs to humans and from humans to dogs. Dogs don’t get symptoms from this infection, but in humans it can present as a series of skin rashes or small, red, pimple-like bumps. The nature of the infection makes it difficult to treat because the bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics. Fortunately, the infection is usually limited to skin irritation.
Tetanus: Also sometimes referred to as lockjaw, tetanus is an infection of the bacteria Clostridium tetani that is often found in the saliva of dogs and other animals (or on rusty nails). When the skin is punctured by a dog’s tooth, for instance, the bacteria can penetrate deep into the puncture wound; it is in that oxygen-deprived environment that it can thrive and eventually lead to symptoms such as spasms in the jaw muscles or muscles elsewhere on the body. Though it is easy to be protected by a tetanus shot, the fact that many people forget to get a new tetanus vaccination every 10 years can leave them vulnerable to the disease.
Pasteurella: Named after the famous French chemist Louis Pasteur, Pasteurella is another type of bacterial infection that can be passed on through a dog bite. Compared to some of the other bacteria listed here, Pasteurella is actually easily treatable with any of a variety of antibiotics. Symptoms include pain, swelling, or tenderness around the area of the bite.
Bergeyella zoohelcum: B. zoohelcum is also a type of bacteria; in this case it resides in the upper respiratory tract of dogs and cats and can be transmitted to a human through a dog bite or cat bite. This kind of infection has been identified relatively recently, so research is still being done to determine symptoms and other characteristics of the disease. What is known so far is that a B. zoohelcum infection can lead to bacteremia, a dangerous condition where the bacteria actually enters the bloodstream.
Dog Bite Prevention
Since kids are the likeliest victims of dog bites, it’s important to keep in mind some tips to help them and others avoid a situation where being bitten is a higher risk. In general, dogs usually only become aggressive if they feel threatened or surprised. Below are some basic ideas that anyone can use when they encounter an unfamiliar dog:
- always ask the dog owner if it’s OK to pet the dog, even if it seems to be friendly
- allow the dog to approach first and remain still
- if the unfamiliar dog is alone and without an owner, keep your distance and call Animal Control
- always monitor young children when playing with a dog, even if it is the family dog
- don’t disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping, or caring for its puppies
- if a dog knocks you down, curl into a ball and cover your ears and neck with your hands
- avoid making loud noises or visibly panicking
- never run away from a dog but instead slowly back away
- avoid making eye contact with the dog
Dog Bite Treatment
If you or a child are bitten by a dog, especially if it seems like a minor dog bite wound, the natural instinct may be to dismiss it as no big deal. Given the potential for infection, however, it is really important to immediately wash the wound with soap and water once any bleeding has stopped. After normal first aid steps like applying antibiotic ointment and covering the area with a bandage or clean cloth, you should plan to get medical attention as soon as possible. In the vast majority of cases, the infection will be either nonexistent or easily treatable, but the risks of letting it go untreated are too great to ignore.
TrustCare Kids Can Help!
As noted earlier, children under the age of 14 are the ones most likely to be the victim of a dog bite. To help parents put their minds at ease with a dog bite or any other ailment under the sun, TrustCare has now opened a special clinic that is specifically designed for pediatric primary care and pediatric urgent care. If your child has been bitten by a dog and you need to be seen quickly, you can walk-in to our TrustCare Kids location, which is open seven days a week. We know how precious children are, and we are passionate about giving them compassionate, excellent health care.
This post has been medically reviewed by Dr. Catherine Phillippi, pediatrician at TrustCare Kids. She earned her medical degree from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in 1999 and completed her pediatric training at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences/Arkansas Children’s Hospital.