A study was recently published in the Veterinary Record (O’Sullivan et al, 2008, volume 163) describing 234 dog bites in people in Ireland. Dog owners and victims of dog bites were interviewed to characterize the incidents. Bites were divided into 2 categories: bites to the dogs’ owner(s) and bites to someone who didn’t own the dog. Here are some parts of the study that I found interesting:

  • A large number of dog breeds were involved.  The breeds most commonly involved in bites were also the most common breeds in the country, indicating that higher bite numbers for certain breeds were a reflection of the breed popularity, not a breed-associated propensity to bite.
  • A large percentage of individuals that were bitten were adults, but children were more often involved when the bite was caused by a dog that was not owned by the family. The reason for this is unclear, but may relate to inadequate supervision of the interaction of children and "strange"/unfamiliar animals, or inadequate education of children about how to interact with such animals.
  • Slightly over half of the bites from dogs not owned by the victim occurred off the dog’s property, which demonstrates that exercising proper restraint of dogs (e.g. preventing roaming, maintining good control of dogs when walking, keeping dogs leashed when necessary) could potentially have a major impact on the number of bites.
  • 27% of non-owners and 10% of owners suffered multiple bites or sustained attack from the dog involved. This is a serious concern, because multiple bites or attacks are presumably more likely to result in serious injury, and children are more often bitten by dogs not owned by their family.
  • 13% of non-owners and 7% of owners were admitted to an emergency department as a result of the bite(s). Non-owners were more likely to be hospitalized and require major medical treatment.
  • Bites to the hands were reported more frequently in the owner group. Bites to the hands may occur due to improper interaction with dogs, inadvertent bites when playing, or behavioural problems like dominance aggression, which can result in bites when a person tries to take away food or a toy from the dog. Proper training of pets – and owners – is critical.
  • 70% of owners and 81% of non-owners described the bite as unprovoked. However, in 45% of bites to non-owners, the person was on or very near the dog’s property, so territorial behaviour may have played a role. Also, some people who reported the bite as unprovoked simply may not have recognized (a) signal(s) from the dog that it was aggitated and may bite. Again, better education of people is very important, in combination with appropriate restraint and training of the animal.
  • 24% of owners and 22% of non-owners were bitten on a Wednesday.  I have no idea why. Do dogs get cranky in the middle of the work-week like some people???

More information on dog bites can be found under "bites" in the Worms & Germs Archive.