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Boys ages 5 to 9 are most likely to get bit by a dog, according to Centers for Disease Control statistics.

Delaying dog bite treatment comes back to bite you, experts say

by Whitney Jackson
May 22, 2008

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Information on rabies from Centers for Disease Control Illinois dog bite law Video lessons, dog training blog, forums and radio show.

Dog bite prevention: tips to share with your family*

If the child sees a strange dog, he or she should stand like a tree. The dog might walk up to the child for a sniff, but it is likely the animal will become disinterested and walk away. If a child runs, the dog is more likely to chase and attack. Instruct a child to stand still, look straight ahead and avoid eye contact with the dog. After the animal leaves, the child should immediately report the loose dog to an adult.

Never leave a child of any age unsupervised with a dog. Even the friendliest dogs can show aggression. Do not take the risk of having one of your child's friends get bit by your family pet.

Discourage rough play with dogs. Young boys are the most common victims of dog bites, as they play rough, yell and run, which can trigger a dog’s aggression. Make sure your child knows the right way to interact with your pet.

If children are scared of dogs, don’t force them to be near the animals. This creates bad associations for both the children and the animals, and might lead the children to run or scream, which triggers the dog.

Many dogs send warning signals before they bite, but kids have a hard time reading them. These warning signs can include stiffness in the body or tail, head lowering or staring. As a parent, be aware of the signs so you can help prevent bites.

Make sure your children know not to bother a dog when it is eating. This goes for when a dog has a new toy, too. They tend to be more aggressive when they are guarding a resource.

Never approach a dog if it does not approach you. A dog should move toward you and appear calm and comfortable in your presence. Always ask before petting someone else’s dog, even if it is supposedly a friendly breed.

All family dogs should be appropriately trained and socialized. Make sure to enroll a professional trainer to ease the transition when you bring home a new dog. Try to keep your dog on the same routine, such as getting plenty of exercise, after children are introduced into the family.

In the case of an actual dog bite, try not to thrash about. Anybody who has ever seen a dog toss around a toy or dead animal knows the more the object moves, the greater the response of the dog. If at home, spraying the dog with a cold garden hose might startle it enough that it lets go. Dog walkers concerned about attacks from other dogs are encouraged to carry pepper spray.

Secure the animal after it bites. Victims certainly take precedence in these emergency situations, but it is important to find the dog’s owner to determine if the animal is up to speed on its vaccinations. If the dog just bit somebody, it might be in the mood to do so again. Local authorities should be alerted if owners are not identified.

*The following individuals contributed to the above tips: Jeff Millman, dog trainer, Chicago; Gina Manski, animal control officer, Northbrook; Dr. Bonnie Beaver, director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

Parents who delay taking their children to the doctor after a dog bite incident, or fail to take them at all, are taking a grave risk with the health of their children, experts say.

“The first thing is to seek medical attention,” said Dr. Henri Gaboriau of the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, who warns parents against trying to judge the severity of wounds. “We’re talking about right now, not the next day,” Gaboriau said, adding that if a child sees a medical professional immediately, risk of infection and scarring is greatly reduced.

Gaboriau joins health professionals and organizations, including The American Veterinary Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, in an effort to better inform the public during National Dog Bite Prevention Week.

The majority of bites Gaboriau sees are on kids’ noses, lips and hands. Adults commonly underestimate puncture wounds, when the dog closes its jaw and creates little holes, because the victim might not bleed as much, he said. But if left unattended, such wounds heal with “very bad, very hard, very red” scars and run a high risk of infection, he said.

Bites involving torn flesh can be a surgical emergency, Gaboriau said, giving the example that one bite can take off half a child’s nose. Children do not have much extra tissue to work with, so it is crucial to get them to the emergency room in the case of a true attack, he said.

It is common for people to put off going to the doctor when a dog bites because they fear legal ramifications, experts said. Gina Manski, an animal control officer in Northbrook, said the majority of child dog bites are from a family pet or friend's dog. Illinois law places strict liability on dog owners.

In Cook County, the outcome for a biting dog is varied depending on the scenario, according to Manski. Doctors who see a dog bite victim are legally required to report the incident to the appropriate law agency, she said.

Here is how Manski broke down the potential outcome for a dog that bites someone in Cook County:

  • If a dog bites someone living in the same household, the dog is not required to undergo rabies observation and is not impounded.
  • If the dog bites a person who is not living in the same household, but has vaccination documentation, the dog is required to have rabies observation exams on the first and tenth day after the bite and has to be confined to its home for 10 days.
  • If a dog bites someone outside the household and does not have proof of vaccinations, it is immediately impounded for a minimum of 10 days.

Manksi, who teaches dog bite prevention in elementary schools, said animal safety is an important conversation for parents to have with their children.  

Nearly 5 million Americans report dog bites annually, and half of the approximately 800,000 victims who receive medical attention for these wounds are children, according to American Veterinary Medical Association data.

“When parents teach their kids how to stay safe, that’s when we can prevent more bites from occurring,” Manski said. “Everyone thinks their pet doesn’t do it, but all dogs have the potential to bite, even if it’s a golden retriever,” she said.