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Published on May 20, 2014

Week Raises Awareness of Dog Bite Prevention

COLUMBIA, Mo. - As part of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, scheduled May 18 to 24, a University of Missouri Health Care plastic surgeon is raising awareness about the possible dangers that canines can pose.

"Dog bites are common year-round, but we've seen an increase in cases over the last month," said Stephen Colbert, M.D., an MU Health Care plastic surgeon and assistant professor of surgery in the MU School of Medicine's Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. "As the weather warms up and people spend more time outside, they tend to have more interaction with dogs."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, about half of whom are children. Statistics from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control show that from 2003 to 2012, dog bites were the 11th leading cause of non-fatal injuries to children ages 1 through 4, ninth for ages 5 through 9, and 10th for ages 10 through 14.

In 2013, approximately 27,000 reconstructive procedures were done to repair dog bites, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Adults can reduce the risk of dog bites by avoiding dogs with histories of aggressive behavior, 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.

Parents can teach children basic safety tips to reduce the likelihood of a dog bite.

  • Do not approach an unfamiliar dog.
  • Do not run from a dog or scream.
  • Remain motionless when approached by an unfamiliar dog, and avoid direct eye contact.
  • 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 to an adult stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior.
  • 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.

The majority of dog bites are largely preventable, Colbert said, and many bites occur when an individual attempts to break up a dog fight. While stray dogs should not be approached, Colbert urges caution around familiar dogs, as well.

"As we travel and visit friends or family over the summer, it's important to be aware that even familiar dogs can become aggressive," Colbert said. "Oftentimes, our children are more comfortable than the dog is, and that may not always be apparent. If bitten, clean the affected area, wrap it with a clean bandage or dressing, and seek medical attention if the bite is severe."