Dog bites in Australian children
Roy M Kimble, Natalie Dallow, Richard Franklin and Belinda Wallis
Dogs never bite me. Just humans.
Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962)
Dogs have been companions of humans for over 12 000 years and have become an inseparable part of rural and urban life. Many breeds continue to do valuable work — managing livestock on farms, guiding the visually impaired, sniffing out contraband, and as guard dogs. Most of the 3.4 million dogs in Australia are family pets, with 36% of households owning a dog.1 Unfortunately, as a result of this close relationship, dog bites are common.
Statistics on dog bites often seem alarming, but most bite injuries are relatively minor, not requiring hospital admission.2 In 2008 and 2009, 928 children aged 0–14 years attended accident and emergency departments in Queensland with dog bites, equating to nine bites per week (Access Information Service, Queensland Health). The Queensland Trauma Registry (QTR) contains data on 186 children (aged 0–14 years; mean age, 5.5 years) who were admitted to Queensland hospitals for more than 24 hours in 2003–2009, equating to one such hospitalisation for a dog bite injury every 2 weeks (own unpublished data). No children died from dog bites in this period. Of the dog bite injuries recorded in the QTR, 88% occurred in the home environment, and almost all (98%) required at least one operation under general anaesthetic. In 2003, the Royal Children’s Hospital conducted a telephone survey on 45 consecutive children who were admitted with serious dog bites during 1997–2002. This survey showed that the child had physically interacted with the dog immediately before the attack in 63% of cases. Most attacks (92%) occurred in a setting familiar to the child, usually the family house or garden, or that of a relative or friend. Most bites were to the head and neck region (72%) and most children (93%) were left with permanent cosmetic scarring (own unpublished data). These results are consistent with those of other Australian studies.2,3