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University of Missouri Health Care News Releases
MU plastic surgeon discusses dog bite prevention

COLUMBIA, Mo. — According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than four million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, and one in five dog bites results in injuries that require medical attention.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with several other national organizations, are recognizing the week of May 17 to May 23 this year as National Dog Bite Prevention Week.

“I see at least five to 10 patients with dog bites each year, and our department sees 20 to 30 cases as a whole,” said Stephen Colbert, M.D., a plastic surgeon at University of Missouri Health Care. “This is a fraction of all the bites that occur, due to the fact that many victims do not seek treatment and some are seen by other service providers such as general pediatrics and emergency room physicians.”

Bites happen to both adults and children but are generally more devastating in younger children. Not only do bites create direct trauma to the tissues, but they can have secondary consequences that are just as concerning, such as infection. About half of all dog bite victims in the United States are children, who get bitten during everyday activities interacting with familiar dogs.

“The most common areas that are bitten are the hands, arms and the face, and all bites will leave some degree of permanent scar or possible disfigurement,” said Colbert. “People should be particularly aware in settings involving a mildly familiar dog of intermittent exposure, such as a friend’s dog, or a grandparent’s dog, where the person may feel quite comfortable around the dog, but the dog may not feel so comfortable around the person.” 

Dog bites are a largely preventable public health issue, and adults and children can learn to reduce their chances of being bitten. For adults, avoiding dogs with histories of aggressive behavior as household pets, spaying or neutering a dog to reduce aggressive tendencies, refraining from playing aggressive games with the dog, and properly training and socializing any dog before it becomes a household pet will reduce the risks of dog bites.

To reduce the risks of children being bitten, parents can teach children basic safety tips. 

  • Do not approach an unfamiliar dog. 
  • Do not run from a dog or scream. 
  • Remain motionless when approached by an unfamiliar dog. 
  • If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still. 
  • Do not play with a dog unless supervised by an adult. 
  • Immediately report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior to an adult.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with a dog. 
  • Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies. 
  • Do not pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first. 
  • If bitten, immediately report the bite to an adult.

“I suspect most people either know someone or have themselves been a victim of a dog bite, as they are quite common,” said Colbert. “Although treatment is important, prevention is the key.”

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