Injuries from Animal Bites Can Be Prevented
Animal bites, especially dog bites, are a significant source of injury each year, especially among children. Dog bites are the most common but cats, ferrets and wild animals also bite people. Each year, about 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs and 800,000 of those bitten seek medical attention. Half of these are seen in the emergency room and about a dozen die. The primary victims are children, especially boys. Fortunately, steps can be taken to prevent most bites.
Animal bites are of concern not only because of the bodily harm they can cause, but also because of the possibility of exposure to rabies. A rabies-related law in Alabama requires doctors to report all animal bites they treat to the health department. In Jefferson County, the Community Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Health (JCDH) investigates reports to determine if there has been any exposure to rabies. Dogs, cats, and ferrets are required to be quarantined and observed by a licensed veterinarian for a short period to see if they develop rabies.
According to Ralls Coston, an Environmental Health Supervisor at JCDH, Jefferson County averages 950-970 reported animal bites per year. 2007 appears to be on par with the average, with 411 bites thus far. Bites are common throughout the year, though more bites happen during weekends, holidays and the summer months.
Responsible dog ownership and appropriate behavior with dogs are two keys to prevention. Most attacks occur at home, where biting dogs belong to the victim’s family or friend. The breed and size do not matter; all dogs can bite if provoked. Follow these tips to prevent bites:
- Consult your veterinarian for advice in selecting the right pet for your household.
- Train your dog to respond to the basic commands.
- Socialize your dog so it feels at ease around strangers and other animals.
- Keep your dog healthy. Have your dog vaccinated against rabies.
- Neuter your dog. Neutered dogs are three times less likely to bite.
- Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.
- Teach children not to approach strange dogs and to ask permission from a dog's owner before petting the dog.
- Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
- Stay still if a dog approaches to sniff you. In most cases, the dog will go away when it determines you are not a threat.
- Remain calm if you are threatened by a dog. Don't scream. If you say anything, speak calmly and firmly. Avoid eye contact. Stay still until the dog leaves, or back away slowly until the dog is out of sight; do not turn and run.
- If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your head and neck to protect your face.