Dog Bites and Children

Dogs can be wonderful family pets, but they are also responsible for
emergency room visits when they bite a child. Whether you are the dog is
yours, the child is yours, or even both, you need to be aware of what to do
before and after a dog bites a child.

Dr. Matheson Harris is an ophthalmologist and oculo-facial plastic surgeon
in Salt Lake City with Utah Oculoplastic Consultants and he explains how to
keep your child safe from dog bites.

Dr Harris specializes in plastic and reconstructive surgery of the eyelids,
forehead, brows, eye socket and tear drainage system
Over 4 million dog bites occur annually in the US with 500,000 requiring an
ER visits. Children are at high risk for facial dog bites: they are down at the
dogs level, and dogs seem programmed to go for the face when provoked.
Most of us know 1 or more people with a scar on their face from a dog bite
as a child. I get called when these bites involve the eyelids and often cut
through the tear drain system, or rarely, completely tear off the eyelid.
Most can be fixed satisfactorily, but nearly all still result in a scar. And dog
bites are at high risk of becoming infected, so using antibiotics for 3-7
days is recommended. Dogs can pose a risk to their owners and to
children, no matter who causes them to lash out. There are, however, many
things you can do to prevent these unfortunate injuries from taking place.
A dog’s propensity to bite is affected by many factors, including heredity,
sex, early nuturing, interactions and training, overall health and
reproductive status. Males are over 6 times more likely to bite than
females. Neutered dogs are 2-1/2 times less likely to bite and unchained
dogs are almost 3 times less likely. Sexually intact males and females are
generally more aggressive, especially when tending to their young. Large
breed dogs will obviously inflict more damage when biting, which accounts
for their disproportionate number of reported dog bites. The most common
breeds causing serious or fatal bites are Labrador retrievers, followed by
bulldogs, akitas, mastiffs, boxers, collies and cocker spaniels.
Notice that the Labrador Retriever, considered a great family/kids dog is
top of the list. This is mostly due to its being so common, but also
because people underestimate its temperament. Certain breeds, such as
bulldogs, are bred for aggression and will bite with little or no provocation
and often without showing any behavioral warning signs. In a 2001 study,
children aged 0-14 comprised 42% of all people presenting at the ER for
dog bite treatment. In a separate study where greater than 90% of dog
bites were from animals owned by the family, 63% of those dogs bit again
when kept by the family. I have personally stitched up the face of a child
twice in one year after dog bites from the same dog. The following are
ways to prevent dog bites from ever happening:

1. Properly train and socialize your own dog: Never tolerate aggressive
behavior by saying, “that’s just how he/she is” or blame it on the breed.

2. Control the number of aggressive dogs: Neuter male dogs to reduce
aggressive tendencies, limit reproduction where dogs have little chance of
proper socialization, confront aggressive behavior, and limit the breeding
of pit bulls. (Personal opinion: these dogs are a menace and bringing one in
to your home or allowing your kids near one is a form of child

3. Obey leash laws: It doesn’t matter how docile you think your dog is, you
don’t know how he/she will behave when confronted by a stranger. As
someone who has been bitten or just jumped all over by strange dogs while
their owners stand by, I can attest that this isn’t pleasant. If you truly love
your pet, don’t put them in a situation where they could hurt someone else,
especially children, or you’ll be giving them a one-way ticket to the gas
chamber. Don’t let your children approach strange dogs or hug or tease
any dog that is in the least bit aggressive. An unknown dog older than four
months should not be placed in a household with young children unless it
has been evaluated by an animal behaviorist or by a veterinarian.

4. Know when dogs are more likely to be aggressive: dogs that have
recently delivered puppies or are eating or sleeping tend to be in a foul
mood when messed with. Teach your kids to treat dogs kindly and never
tease them or take away food or bones.

5. Use proper barriers: Enclosures, fences and sometimes muzzles should
be used to keep dogs away from potential problems.
Let’s just use some common sense around them so our kids will also find
them loveable and avoid ever having to meet me in the ER.

To discuss eyelid surgery, you can contact Dr. Harris’ office at (801)264-
4420 or find them on the web at You can also read Dr.
Harris’ blog at

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