Your pet pooch and your children are best friends. But what happens when a dog bites them? Jaime Verberne, Child Safety Expert at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, answered our biggest questions: can dog bites be avoided, and what should we do if our child gets a dog bite?
Do dog bites occur more in certain times of year? How can we prevent dog bites?
I haven’t heard that. What I know though is that dog bites are very common and over half of the cases of dog bites that occur, are with a dog that you are familiar with. So it is important that we start in the home and that we talk to our children about the dangers of dog bites and what not to do to a dog. For example, if a dog is sleeping, tell the child that we never want to sneak up on Fido and try to wake him up because that could scare him and make him bite. Also we can talk to kids about loud noises and how they affect animals as well. For example, rattles and whistles and things can startle a dog and cause a dog to react and bite.
We also want to make sure a child knows that if a dog is eating, whether it be food or a dog bone, that we need to stay away and let the dog eat what it needs to eat, and when the dog is done it is okay to play.
We need to educate our children and we [adults] need to be aware as well. Never leave a dog alone with a child. Even though you trust your dog, every dog can bite. Every dog is capable of that. It is really up to us as caregivers to make sure that we never leave a child alone with a dog and that we talk to our children about what to do.
If a child is bit by a dog, should they go to the ER first?
It really depends on the dog and how familiar you are with the dog as well as the kind of injury that occurs. So if it is a bite that hasn’t pierced the skin you want to clean it up right away with soap and warm water and put some ointment on it and cover it up and keep an eye on it. Of course if it becomes red or there is any swelling you will want to follow up with the doctor. So that would be if you know the dog and you know the dog has had all of its shots, you can take care of that kind of injury at home. But again just keep an eye on it and follow up with the doctor if you have any concerns.
Now, if there’s been a bite by a dog that you don’t know, you will want to ask the owners, if you can, if the dog has had all of its shots, because children and adults can get rabies, tetanus, and bacterial diseases from pets. So it is really important that we know the dog’s history and to get medical attention for that.
If it is an injury that has pierced the skin and there is bleeding, then you definitely want to get medical attention right away.
Is there anything pet owners should do before kids come over?
Yes, even though you may know your dog, a dog can get spooked by children. So when someone comes into your home, talk to the kids about not getting close to the dog’s face or the tail and go over some of the rules like if the dog is eating or drinking to stay away. Let them know to keep their voices down so that we won’t startle the dog. Make sure you are still supervising the children when they are around the dog.
You may even want to put the dog away while visitors are in the home– like in a bedroom with the TV on so that you can keep the dog occupied. Especially if you have concerns that a dog might nip or bite a child, you will want to keep them separated.
Do you have any recommendations for someone who might be in a scary situation where they may be attacked?
You will want to freeze. Stand still like a tree. And if the dog does come at you, don’t panic. Don’t look a dog in the eyes. If a dog does go for you and jumps on you, then you should get down to the floor, curl up and protect your head with your arms. If you have a purse or something like that then put that over your head and neck to protect those areas.
What you would not want to do is to run away because then a dog thinks “oh this is fun!” and they will chase you. Again, don’t look the dog in the eyes because it could make them feel threatened and cause them to attack.
Anything else you would like to add?
Remember it is not always big dogs that bite. Some little dogs bite, and it is not always the breeds you would think of right away that want to bite. According to the CDC, 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the U.S. and almost one out of five bites becomes infected.