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Children Are the Most Common Victims of Dog Bites in U.S.

In light of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, which runs from April 7-13, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) would like to emphasize how education and awareness are the keys to preventing many, if not most, dog bites. An estimated 4.7 million dog bites are reported each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 17 percent of these incidents require emergency medical care. At least half of the victims who require medical attention are children. Pet owners can take preventative measures to decrease the number of dog bites, from teaching children how to avoid dog bites to properly training and socializing pets.

In terms of educating children on preventing dog bites, TVMA encourages parents to learn canine behavioral cues and teach their children the signs that a dog is uncomfortable. Signs to watch for include a dog lifting its lip, panting or yawning inappropriately, cowering, holding its breath, flattening its ears to its head, growling or snapping.

“Many dogs will give a warning or several warnings that they are uncomfortable, and a person needs to back off,” said Lori Teller, DVM, DABVP, a past TVMA president who is a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine. “People often miss these signs and think a dog bite occurred out of the blue.”

It’s best to teach children not to approach strange dogs; however, it’s not only strange dogs that bite. In fact, many dog bites occur during everyday activities and while children are interacting with familiar dogs. Even the gentlest dog can bite its own family member if it’s feeling frightened, distressed or in pain. Parents may consider supervising children’s interactions with dogs so they can intervene if the dog appears to be avoiding the child or displaying distressed behavioral cues. Aside from teaching children warning signs, dog owners also can lower the chances of dog bites by socializing their companion animals.

“Puppies need to be socialized to people of all ages, from crying babies to excitable children to teens listening to loud music to adults and senior citizens,” Dr. Teller said. “And certainly, if your dog, whether a puppy or an adult, exhibits signs that he or she may bite someone, it’s imperative that you seek veterinary help immediately to address the problem.”

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