Human and animal health: strengthening the linksBMJ 2005; 331 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7527.1269-a (Published 24 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1269
Preventing dog bites
EDITOR—Dog bites are a serious health issue. For example, in Belgium each year 1% of the general population needs medical attention after a dog bite.1 Epidemiological data indicate that 50% of bites are not reported to medical or legal authorities.2 Children seem to be more at risk of being bitten by a dog than any other age group.3 In children under 16 years of age, the incidence is estimated at 2.2% each year.2 Injuries in children are often to the face and neck and may be life threatening.4
Most dog bites happen at home and involve the family pet.5 At the same time, dogs remain very popular as pets, and evidence for the physical, psychological, and social benefits of dog ownership is growing.w1 w2 Data from pet food companies indicate that about one third of families in Europe, and more than 5 million families in the United Kingdom, own a dog.w3
A dog's tendency to bite depends on several interacting factors,w4 and measures such as breed specific legislation, as adopted by some governments, are inappropriate.5 w4 w5 Tackling the problem requires a multifactorial, multidisciplinary approach.3 w4 w6
In 2001, I participated in a collaborative study with paediatricians in Belgium into the circumstances surrounding dog bite incidents in children, at home and in public places.5 One of the findings was that most bites at home were triggered by an interaction from the child towards the dog. Many of these incidents might have been prevented if the parents and children had been more aware of how dogs react in certain situations. Much could therefore be achieved through improved education of parents and children.3 5 w4 On the basis of these findings, interactive educational material is being developed for use by children and their parents in families who own dogs.