A review of hospitalizations from dog bites in Ireland (O Suilleabhain et al. The Veterinary Journal 2015) had a few noteworthy findings:
- There were 3164 hospitalizations during the study period (1998-2003). That’s just people who were admitted, it does not include people who were treated as outpatients in the ER.
- The incidence of bite-associated hospitalizations increased over the study period (obviously, not a good thing).
- Kids under the age of 10 were a high-risk group, accounting for 49% of hospitalizations while making up only 14% of the general population. No shock there.
- Males were also higher risk. Again, not surprising.
- The country’s 1998 Control of Dogs Act, designed to reduce the incidence and severity of bites from specific dog breeds, was deemed a failure by virtue of the increasing hospitalizations since the Act was passed.
Another condemnation of regulation occurred at a recent UK National Dog Bite Prevention Conference (as reported by R Orritt, Veterinary Record 2015).
- “Mr Cooper (a UK lawyer with a special interest in the law as it relates to dogs) criticised the UK Government’s reliance on the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, commenting: ‘The only way the Dangerous Dogs Act will protect potential victims is if they have a copy to use as a shield!’”
- Focusing on “dangerous dog” assessments was also questioned, since in the experience of a frequent expert witness on bog bite cases, most legal cases are associated with first time biters.
- Another interesting comment from the report was about stupid things people do to get “cute” pictures of their kids with animals: “The prevention of dog bites to children was a prevalent theme throughout the conference, with references to the innovative ‘Put the Camera Down’ campaign, which aims to discourage putting children and dogs into unsafe interactions for the purposes of pictures or videos. This phenomenon was neatly summarised by Victoria Stilwell as ‘risks for likes’, referring to the popularity of ‘cute’ or ‘funny’ child- dog interactions on social media.”
A report on dog bites to the face (Toure et al. Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery 2015) indicated, once again, over-representation of children, with 69% of patients being <16 years of age and 33% between 2 and 5 years of age.
- One interesting finding was that 91% of bites occurred in a single-parent environment. I think this needs to be explored further before too much is read into it, but it deserves some attention.
- 96% of bites were by dogs known to the family, another common finding.
A study by Tabaka et al. (Emergency Medicine Journal 2015) described 495 patients that were presented to hospital with dog bites.
- Bites ended up infected in 5.2% of patients.
- Puncture wounds were significantly associated with risk of infection. That makes sense since punctures can close up on the outside, leaving bacteria in deeper tissues that subsequently result in infection.
- Primary wound closure (closing wounds with stitches, staples or glue) was also associated with increased risk of infection. The reason may be similar to why puncture wounds get infected more often, with increased likelihood of bacteria being trapped in deeper tissues and less drainage. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean wound closure should be avoided, since there is often a good medical or cosmetic reason for stitching up wounds.
- The incidence of infection in wounds that were neither punctures nor closed was about half that of the overall rate.
There are no easy answers to dog bites, but a combination of better dog training, dog supervision and public education are needed to decrease the number of bites, and the consequences thereof.