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Preventing Dog Bites

Most kids don't think a cuddly dog would ever hurt them, but the fact is about 4.7 million dog bites happen every year in the United States — and more than half of kids bitten are under age 14. Dog bites can be much more than an innocent little nip, and some require hospitalization or even surgery.

Teaching kids a few basic dog manners, though, will let them — and dogs — enjoy safer encounters.

Other People's Pooches

Any breed of dog might bite. And just because a dog is small or seems friendly doesn't mean it can't do some damage. Even the nicest, most well-trained family dog may snap if it's startled, scared, threatened, agitated, angry, or hungry.

No matter how well you think you know the dog, always supervise your kids around someone else's pet. To reduce the risk of bites, teach kids these safety guidelines:

Owner's Manual

A lot of the responsibility for preventing dog bites falls on the owner's shoulders. Before getting a dog, talk to a professional (such as a veterinarian or reputable breeder or pet shelter) to discuss what type of dog or breed is best for your household. Ask questions about the dog's temperament and health. A dog with a history of aggression is not suitable for a household with kids.

If your family has a dog, make sure it gets all required immunizations and regular vet checkups. Also, have it spayed or neutered. Consider taking your dog to obedience school to make it more social and obedient, and thus less likely to bite someone.

When you take your dog out in public, always keep it on a leash so you can be in control if its behavior gets out of hand. If you have kids, closely supervise them when they're around the dog and never leave an infant or toddler alone with your pet.

Even if you don't own a dog, make sure that your kids understand some "nevers" about being around dogs:

If a Dog Bites Your Child

If your child is bitten by a dog, contact your doctor, particularly if the dog is not yours. Some dog bites need to be treated in an emergency department. The force of a dog's bite can actually result in a fracture (broken bone). Some dog bites can seem minor on the surface but can cause deeper injuries to muscle, bone, nerves and tendons.

While rare, rabies and other kinds of infections from dogs like bacterial infections can occur and should be treated as quickly as possible. Always be sure to ask your doctor if your child needs antibiotics to prevent a dog bite from becoming infected. Not all cuts (lacerations) due to dog bites are stitched because this type of repair can increase the risk of infection. Your doctor will decide which lacerations should be stitched.

Try to have the following information available to help the doctor determine the risk of infection and what kind of treatment, if any, your child needs:

Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: May 2015

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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