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Dog Bite Statistics

The number of dogs. Approximately 35 percent of American households owned a dog in 1994, and the U.S. dog population exceeded 52 million.  (Wise JK, Yang JJ.  Dog and cat ownership, 1991-1998. J Am Vet Med Assoc Vet Med Asso 1994;204:1166-7.)

The number of victims. A survey by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta ("CDC") concludes that dogs bite nearly 2% of the U.S. population -- more than 4.7 million people annually. (Sacks JJ, Kresnow M, Houston B. Dog bites: how big a problem? Injury Prev 1996; 2:52 -4.) Almost 800,000 bites per year -- one out of every 6 -- are serious enough to require medical attention. Dog bites send nearly 334,000 victims to hospital emergency departments per year (914 per day). (National Center for Health Statistics National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey for 1992-1994.) Bites to children represent more than 50 percent of the total number cases. Twenty-six percent of dog bites in children compared with 12 percent in adults require medical care. (Ibid.) Every year 2,851 letter carriers are bitten. (US Postal Service.) An American has a one in 50 chance of being bitten by a dog each year. (Centers for Disease Control [CDC].)

The number of fatalities. In the U.S. from 1979 to 1996, 304 people in the U.S. died from dog attacks, including 30 in California. The average number of deaths per year was 17. Most deaths occurred in children. (Centers for Disease Control, "Dog-Bite-Related Fatalities -- United States, 1995-1996," MMWR 46(21):463-467, 1997.) The chances that victim of a fatal dog attack will be a burglar are one in 177; the odds that it will be a child are 7 out of 10. However, fatalities are highly unusual. For every fatal dog bite in the United States , there are 230,000 bites that are not treated by a physician.

The financial impact of dog bites. Dog attack victims in the U.S. suffer over $1 billion in monetary losses  every year. ("Take the bite out of man's best friend." State Farm Times, 1998;3(5):2.) One in three homeowner insurance claims pertains to a dog bite. (Ibid.) The average insurance payout is $12,000. (Ibid.) 

Dog bites are on the rise: Although the number of dogs in the United States increased by only 2% between 1986 and 1996, the number of dog bite injuries requiring medical treatment rose by 37%. (Weiss HB, Friedman DI, Coben JH. "Incidence of dog bite injuries treated in emergency departments." JAMA 1998;279:51-53.)

The scene of attack is home or a familiar place. The majority of dog attacks (61%) happen at home or in a familiar place. 

Dogs bite family and friends. The vast majority of biting dogs (77%) belong to the victim's family or a friend. 

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Biting Dogs

 The Centers for Disease Control study dog bite incidents, including the types of dogs most likely to bite. The breeds that the CDC considers highest risk are pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds, Huskies, Alaskan malamutes, Doberman pinschers, Chows, Great Danes, St. Bernards and Akitas. 

 Although pit bull mixes and Rottweillers are most likely to kill and seriously maim, fatal attacks since 1975 have been attributed to dogs from at least 30 breeds. 

The most horrifying example of the lack of breed predictability is the October 2000 death of a 6-week-old baby, which was killed by her family's Pomeranian dog. The average weight of a Pomeranian is about 4 pounds, and they are not thought of as a dangerous breed. Note, however, that they were bred to be watchdogs! The baby's uncle left the infant and the dog on a bed while the uncle prepared her bottle in the kitchen. Upon his return, the dog was mauling the baby, who died shortly afterwards. ("Baby Girl Killed by Family Dog," Los Angeles Times, Monday, October 9, 2000 , Home Edition, Metro Section, Page B-5.)

In all fairness, therefore, it must be noted that:

  • Any dog, treated harshly or trained to attack, may bite a person. Any dog can be turned into a dangerous dog. The owner most often is responsible -- not the breed, and not the dog. 
  • An irresponsible owner or dog handler might create a situation that places another person in danger by a dog, without the dog itself being dangerous, as in the case of the Pomeranian that killed the infant (see above).
  • Any individual dog may be a good, loving pet, even though its breed is considered to be likely to bite. A responsible owner can win the love and respect of a dog, no matter its breed. One cannot look at an individual dog, recognize its breed, and then state whether or not it is going to attack. 

The public should beware that in all cases irresponsible owners are the problem. The reason is that irresponsible behavior has caused a rising and unacceptable injury and death toll, which authorities are determined to stem.

"Irresponsible behavior" is defined differently from place to place. In California, for example, it can be a felony for a person to possess a dog trained to fight, attack or kill that, because of the owner's lack of ordinary care, bites two people or seriously injures one person.

In different parts of the United States at the current time, there are a number of parents who are on trial for manslaughter because their dogs have killed their children. In these cases, the prosecutors have taken the position that the parents behaved irresponsibly because they left their children in the company of dogs most likely to bite.

There is an 8 out of 10 chance that a biting dog is male. (Humane Society of the United States.) There is a 6 out of 10 chance that a biting dog has not been neutered. (Humane Society of the United States.)

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Children are the most frequent targets 

Studies of dog bite injuries have reported that:

  • The median age of patients bitten was 15 years, with children, especially boys aged 5 to 9 years, having the highest incidence rate
  • The odds that a bite victim will be a child are 3.2 to 1. (CDC.)
  • Children seen in emergency departments were more likely than older persons to be bitten on the face, neck, and head. 77% of injuries to children under 10 years old are facial.
  • Severe injuries occur almost exclusively in children less than 10 years of age.
  • The majority of dog attacks (61%) happen at home or in a familiar place. 
  • The vast majority of biting dogs (77%) belong to the victim's family or a friend. 
  • When a child less than 4 years old is the victim, the family dog was the attacker half the time (47%), and the attack almost always happened in the family home (90%). 

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  Here's how dog bites rank among other common causes of childhood emergency-room injuries:
 

Cause of injury 

Emergency room incidents annually

Baseball/softball -- 404,364
Dog bites -- 333,687
Playground accidents -- 268,810
All-terrain vehicles, mopeds, etc -- 125,136
Volleyball -- 97,523
Inline skating -- 75,994
Horseback riding -- 71,162
Baby walkers -- 28,000
Skateboards -- 25,486

Source: Journal of the American Medical Association

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