Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Personal View

Dog ownership has unknown risks but known health benefits: we need evidence based policy

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 17 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4081
  1. Rachel Orritt, PhD candidate, School of Psychology, University of Lincoln, Lincoln LN6 7TS
  1. rorritt{at}

Politically driven UK legislation that targets “dangerous dogs” has not been shown to reduce dog bites, writes Rachel Orritt, who calls for policy to be based on robust evidence of incidence and risk assessment of ownership

Dog bites present a public health risk of unknown magnitude. No scientific evidence upon which to base a reliable UK estimate has been obtained in the past two decades. In a clinical review in The BMJ, Morgan and Palmer1 gave an estimate of 250 000 dog bites a year, incorrectly citing Thomas and Banks2 in 1990 (who suggested 230 000 bites a year). This original estimate was not a product of any investigation, nor was it cited to any other source. Morgan and Palmer’s 250 000 figure has pervaded the news media, scientific literature, and the evidence base of recent legislation—despite it being inaccurate and 24 years out of date.

In addition to improper use of evidence, the discussion of the impact of dog-human interactions by medical professionals sometimes ignores the health benefits concomitant with dog ownership. In a personal view in The BMJ …

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