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Children's Health

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Unsupervised Kids at Risk for Dog Bites

Study Shows if a Dog Bites a Child Once, He’s Likely to Bite Again
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 11, 2010 -- Pet dogs pose a major health risk for children, especially kids who aren’t being supervised as they touch or play with the dogs, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine studied 537 children treated for facial bites by dogs and turned up some findings they considered surprising:

  • In almost 90% of dog-bite cases examined, the dog was known to the child. In 51% of cases the dog was a family pet; in 15% the dog belonged to a neighbor, 13% a friend, and 10% a relative.
  • Dogs that bite once are likely to attack again, and the second attack is often more vicious than the first.
  • The dogs that attack most are not necessarily the breeds most commonly thought of as aggressive. Mixed-breed dogs were responsible for 23% of attacks studied, followed by 13.7% by Labrador retrievers. Rottweilers were the attackers in 4.9% of cases, German shepherds 4.4%, and golden retrievers 3%. The study was done in the Denver area, where pit bulls are banned.
  • 52% of children attacked were boys.

Severity of Dog Bites

Dogs when attacking commonly bite in the area of a child’s face and eyes, says Vikram Durairaj, MD, of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and one of the study researchers.

“We have seen facial fractures around the eye, eyelids torn off, injury to the tear drainage system and the eyeball itself,” he says in a news release.

Durairaj says some of the injuries studied were so severe that they required multiple reconstructive surgeries. He says dog bites are especially dangerous for children because they have smaller faces, often within each reach of the animal’s mouth.

He says the likelihood of a child getting bitten by a dog in their lifetime is about 50%, and that 80% of those are to the head and neck.

The study was presented during the American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery Foundation’s annual meeting in Boston in September.

The 537 attacks in the study occurred between 2003 and 2008. More than half the time, the attacks were provoked by children who petted too aggressively or startled or stepped on the dogs.

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