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Dog Bites in Humans

Audrey Ruple, DVM, MS, PhD, MRCVS, DACVPM, Purdue University

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In the Literature

Westgarth C, Brooke M, Christley RM. How many people have been bitten by dogs? A cross-sectional survey of prevalence, incidence and factors associated with dog bites in a UK community. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2018;72:331-336.


A comprehensive understanding of how often humans are bitten by dogs is lacking, as most research into this topic has been based on hospital-admission records. Although not all dog bites are severe enough to warrant hospitalization, even minor dog bites can impact physical and psychologic health and can therefore be a burden on public health.

The authors of this study recognized the limitations of hospital-based data and aimed to survey the population of a semirural town in northwest England. Of the 694 participants representing 30.1% of households in the town, almost one quarter (24.78%) reported having been bitten by a dog at least once. Medical treatment was required in 33.1% of cases; only one bite resulted in hospitalization.

The authors further investigated human-related factors associated with dog bites and the relationships between humans and the dogs that bit them. It was determined that men were more likely than women to be bitten, and dog owners were more likely to be bitten than were non-dog owners, with further increased risk to owners of more than one dog. Personality indicators such as insecurity, fear, and instability were also associated with an increased risk for being bitten. More than half of the surveyed respondents were bitten by a dog they had never met before.

It is important to note that this survey was conducted in a limited geographic region and that these results may not be generalizable to a wider population. However, this study does provide the first investigation of dog bite incidence and risk factors at the community level rather than through hospital-admission records. The increased frequency of dog bites reported combined with the low proportion of bites requiring hospital admission lend credibility to the hypothesis that dog bites occur more commonly than reported.


Key pearls to put into practice:


Pet owners should be informed that although severe dog bites occur relatively infrequently, less severe bites may occur fairly commonly.



Owners should be educated about the risk for dog bites from unknown dogs, as owners may be likely to come in contact with unknown dogs while participating in activities with their dog or in public spaces frequented by other dogs (eg, dog parks).



Owners with multiple dogs in the household should be informed about the increased risk for being bitten, as owners of multiple dogs may be up to 27 times more likely to be bitten than non-dog owners.

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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