Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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Dog bite statistics

A better understanding of the epidemiology of dog bites thru an understanding of statistics are necessary for education in dog bite safety.

A large amount of data about dog bite statistics and injury inflicted by dogs to people has been researched and published in the last several decades. We now know more about who gets bit, where they get bit, the bite injuries a victim sustains and the breed of dog the victim is bitten by.

For example, children are bitten more often than adults, the majority of victims are bitten by a dog they know, most of the incidences happen on the dog’s home turf,     and German shepherds, Jack Russell terriers and chihuahuas bite people at disproportionately high rates.

Epidemiological data and statistical analyses in this area of cover a broad range of topics:

  • The breed, gender, and age of the dog which inflicted the bite;
  • The circumstances and context in which the bite occurred;
  • The gender, age of the dog bite victim;
  • Costs associated with treating dog bite injuries;
  • Types of injuries associated with dog bites, including psychological trauma such as  post-traumatic stress disorder;
  • Fatal dog attacks;
  • Statistical analyses of breed specific legislation;
  • Statistical analysis of the effects of  programs for dog bite safety 

Personal injury inflicted by dogs to people  is understandably an important area of public health inquiry. Namely, the frequency of dog bites is high, costs are staggering and the emotional and physical damage inflicted onto a human, particularly a child, from an attack by a dog can be devastating. A better understanding of the epidemiology of dog bites thru understanding of statistics would be beneficial for programs and education about dog bite prevention.

The epidemiology of dog bites

The frequency of dog bites

Dog bite injuries inflicted on people have long been recognized as a serious public health problem and one which disproportionately affects children. Moreover, despite many efforts at dog bite prevention and education aimed mainly at children, the frequency at which people are attacked and bitten by dogs remain at alarmingly high rates.  Some researchers have characterized the dog bite problem in the United States as an epidemic. [1]Harris. D. et. al.  Dog bites – an unrecognized epidemic.  Bull. New York Acad. Med. 1974, 50, 981–1000

For example, in the United States, approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. About 17 to 18% of dog bite injuries receive medical attention, and around 1 to 2% of bite injuries require hospitalization of victims. Dog bite-related injuries comprise 0.4 to 1.5% of emergency department visits,1.2% of surgical cases seen in emergency departments, and 0.3 to 1% of emergency room visits by pediatric patients. Approximately 3.6% of emergency department visits by male children between 5 and 9 years old are dog bite-related. [2]Overall K and Love M. Dog bites to humans – demography, epidemiology, injury and risk  J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 2001, 218,  1923-1934

Another noteworthy but unexplained finding is that the rate of dog bite injury in the United States is remarkably high. For example, there are about 14.1 bites per 1000 inhabitants in the United States. This compares with 0.00004 bites per 1000 inhabitants in Australia, 0.19 bites per 1000 inhabitants in Canada, 8.3 bites per 1000 inhabitants in the Netherlands, and 22 bites per 1000 children under the age of 15 years in Belgium. In short, the rate at which people are bitten by dogs in the United States is higher when compared with most other countries. [3]Polo, G. et. al Understanding dog aggression: Epidemiologic aspects. In memoriam, Rudy de Meester (1953-2012)  J. Veterinary Behavior, 2015, 10 , 525-534.

Also, more dog bite fatalities happen in the United States than in any other country, and children are the ones disproportionately killed by dogs.  [4]Patronek, G, et. al.  Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite-related fatalities in the United States (2000-2009).  J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc.  2013, 243, 1726 – 1736.

Children and dog bites

Many studies have shown that children, especially boys aged 5–9 years, are much more likely to be bitten by dogs than adults. From 2005 to 2009, the estimated average annual injury rate of non-fatal dog bites treated in emergency room departments was 107.2 per 100, 000 population, with boys accounting for 53% of these injuries.[5]Quirk J. Non-fatal dog bite injuries in the U.S.A., 2005-2009. Public Health Reports 2012,126,300-302

By the age of 12, more than half of the children in the USA are reported to have been bitten by a dog.   Other findings show that the likelihood of a child in the USA being bitten by a dog in their lifetime is around 50%  and approximately 80% of severe dog bites in children involve the head and neck. [6]Spiegel I. A pilot study to evaluate an elementary school-based dog bite prevention program. Anthrozoos,. 2000;13(3):165–73. BeckAM, Jones BA. Unreported dog bites in children. Public HealthRep … Continue reading

In one large-scale study, an analysis of pediatric dog bite injuries over a ten-year period wasundertaken. A total of 6308 children, identified as a victim of a dog bite attack, were studied.  Findings showed that the average age of a child at the time of the incident was about six years.  Most bites were to the head and neck of the child.  50% of the victims underwent some medical procedure, 31% had an invasive surgical procedure, and 5.1% of the children required skin grafts or flaps. The authors concluded, “dog bites are a common cause of pediatric injuries and are a significant burden on families and the health care system.” [7]J. Cook, et.al.  2020. An epidemiological analysis of pediatric dog bite injuries over a decade.  J Surgical Research 2020, 246, 231-235

In another study, records for 6323 hospital admissions for a dog bite injury were analyzed. The mean age of a victim was 6.63 years. Almost one third underwent a surgical procedure. Open wounds of the head, neck, and trunk were the most common and decreased in prevalence with increasing age. Open wounds of the extremities were second most common, and the prevalence increased with increasing age. Children less than ten years of age, were three times more likely to be hospitalized when compared with children older than 11 years. [8]McLoughlin R. et.al. Hospitalizations for pediatric dog bite injuries in the United States. J Pediatr Surg. 2020, 55, 1128-1233.

Another study limited the analysis to just facial dog bites in children rather than dog bites inflicted on the entire body. The medical charts of 593 victims were reviewed from the Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado. Generally, findings in this study were consistent with results from other studies when the analysis was done on injuries of the head and neck.  However, in this study, researchers scrutinized only facial injuries and found that victims with dog bites to the face were younger. Namely, about 68% of the facial bites happened in children less than five years of age.  The authors concluded “Younger children are more prone to injuries to the face due to their smaller stature which is on the same level as dogs, their relatively large head size compared with their body, and their lack of understanding and fear of dogs leading them to bring their faces within an intimate and threatening distance from the dog. [9]Chen,H. et al. Analysis of Pediatric Facial Dog Bites. Trauma Reconstruction 2013, 6, 225–232.

In sum, the take away from my review of the research mentioned above is that children are frequently the victims of a dog attack, children less than 10 years of age are more likely to be bitten by a dog than older children, boys are more likely to be bitten than girls, and that the most common dog bite wounds children sustain are open wounds to the head, neck and face which required an invasive surgical procedures to repair.

Important considerations about dog bites statistics

 #1. The frequency of dog bites in the USA is no longer at epidemic proportions

In recent years there has been a substantial decrease in frequency in nonfatal dog bites to children. Currently, it appears that the overall frequency of nonfatal dog bites has decreased or at least stabilized. Consequently, it would be misleading to characterize dog bites in the USA as an “epidemic”, as it was done 30 years ago.  No doubt that dog bite problem continues, as evidenced in the 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States. nonetheless, the dog bite problem in the USA appears to have lessened, probably the result of educational efforts -and not through legislation which restricts or prohibits ownership of certain so-called “dangerous” breeds.

Attacks on people by dogs will always happen because dogs are ingrained into culture and society.  Moreover, attacks happen because of the recklessness and careless handling of certain dog owners. The bottom line: this public health problem will never go away: the best that could be done is to control it. Fortunately, unlike India, in the USA and in other Western countries, rabies is not a serious concern.

 #2. Bite statistics should always be considered in the context in which an incident happens

Statistical information on dog bites should not be presented out of context. As much specificity should be given, if available, about the particular statistic. For example, since relatively detailed information and statistics about dog bites to children are available, it would be misleading (but not necessarily inaccurate), to represent in a general sense that children are the ones most frequently bitten by dogs (as some attorneys might do to argue foreseeability in a personal injury case). Specificity should be provided because it is also known that boys are more frequently bitten than girls, children under 10 years of age are bitten more frequently than children over 10 years, children under 6 years are the population most severely bitten, and children sustain dog bites most frequently during the springtime and summer months.

#3. No conclusive evidence indicates that BLS lowers the frequency of dog bites in the general population

Studies have been undertaken about dog bite frequency and in Ireland, England, Spain, and  Belgium.  Results from these studies show no correlation between the frequency of dog bites in the general population and the restriction of certain so-called “dangerous” breeds.

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This section of dogexpert.com is divided into two to parts: First, links are provided to pages about dog bite statistics found on this website and the second part lists links to other relevant websites.

Dog bite statistics on dogexpert.com

Relevant websites about dog bite statistics

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This article was written by and fact-checked for accuracy by dog bite expert witness, Richard Polsky Ph.D.  Dr. Polsky resides in Los Angeles. He welcomes inquiries from attorneys seeking statistical information that could be used to support liability arguments in dog bite lawsuits.

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Footnotes

Footnotes
1Harris. D. et. al.  Dog bites – an unrecognized epidemic.  Bull. New York Acad. Med. 1974, 50, 981–1000
2Overall K and Love M. Dog bites to humans – demography, epidemiology, injury and risk  J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 2001, 218,  1923-1934
3Polo, G. et. al Understanding dog aggression: Epidemiologic aspects. In memoriam, Rudy de Meester (1953-2012)  J. Veterinary Behavior, 2015, 10 , 525-534.
4Patronek, G, et. al.  Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite-related fatalities in the United States (2000-2009).  J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc.  2013, 243, 1726 – 1736.
5Quirk J. Non-fatal dog bite injuries in the U.S.A., 2005-2009. Public Health Reports 2012,126,300-302
6Spiegel I. A pilot study to evaluate an elementary school-based dog bite prevention program. Anthrozoos,. 2000;13(3):165–73. BeckAM, Jones BA. Unreported dog bites in children. Public HealthRep 1985;100(3):315–321). Mcheik JN, Vergnes P, Bondonny JM. Treatment of facial dog bite injuries in children: a retrospective study. J Pediatr Surg 2000;35 580–583. Calkins CM, Bensard DD, Partrick DA, Karrer FM. Life-threatening dog attacks: a devastating combination of penetrating and blunt injuries. J Pediatr Surg 2001;36(8):1115–1117
7J. Cook, et.al.  2020. An epidemiological analysis of pediatric dog bite injuries over a decade.  J Surgical Research 2020, 246, 231-235
8McLoughlin R. et.al. Hospitalizations for pediatric dog bite injuries in the United States. J Pediatr Surg. 2020, 55, 1128-1233.
9Chen,H. et al. Analysis of Pediatric Facial Dog Bites. Trauma Reconstruction 2013, 6, 225–232.