By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM
May 20-26, 2012 is Dog Bite Prevention Week. Dog bites are a serious public health issue. In the United States, 4.7 million bites are estimated to occur each year. Children ages 5-9 are the most common victims of dog bites, but everyone is at risk.
I want to share my personal dog bite story and one that happened to my friend Susan the very same day.
You may immediately think that I was bitten by one of my dog patients. Not this time. I was walking down the hall of my apartment building just as the door to the service elevator opened. Thinking someone would come out of the door with their arms full; I stood still, away from the service elevator door, so the person could easily pass when the door opened. When it opened, out came a dog on a leash. My neighbor did not have a good hold on the leash, her dog jumped up on me, and, unprovoked, bit my arm. Fortunately, my arm was only bruised and the dog had been vaccinated for rabies. The dog owner’s veterinarian provided an official rabies vaccination certificate and there was no need for alarm.
Susan’s story is not as simple. While at an outdoor café, Susan saw a cute dog and asked the owner’s permission to pet it. Permission was granted and as soon as Susan began to pet the dog, it bit her on the hand causing serious bleeding. In the fray, the dog and the owner disappeared, Susan was taken to the emergency room, and because the dog’s rabies vaccination status was unknown, she had to get the series of rabies shots for her own safety.
Tales from the Pet Clinic readers can learn some valuable lessons from these two stories:
- Always follow the rules for safe interaction with dogs. To view a video click here.
- Following the rules does not guarantee safety, and children interacting with any dog should always be supervised. Both Susan and I followed the rules for safe interaction with dogs. Susan asked permission from the owner before petting the dog and I stood still as a tree even when the dog rushed toward me.
- Train your dog to safely interact with strangers so they don’t jump up and bite when they meet new people.
- Keep your dog current on rabies vaccinations.
- If your dog bites someone, no matter how embarrassing it is, give your name and address to the person who was bitten. It may save them from needing the series of shots required to prevent rabies, like Susan received.
- Provide a copy of your dog’s rabies vaccination certificate to the person your dog has bitten. They will sleep a bit easier knowing your dog is protected against rabies and this knowledge may prevent them from needing the human rabies shots.
- Susan and I are unusual in that we were adult victims of a dog bite. Children are more likely to be involved. If you have children, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a lesson in dog safety for parents.