Any dog can bite; learn how to protect your family

April 11, 2023
IDHW Communications

With about 80 million dogs living in U.S. households, there are unfortunately about 4.5 million dog bites each year, with many dog bite victims being children.

In Idaho, dog bites are increasing, and visits to Idaho emergency departments by children for dog bite injuries are trending up.

Hospitalizations for dog bite injuries are increasing as well, particularly for boys 5 to 17 years old. Most years, there are about 20 people hospitalized for dog bite injuries in Idaho. In 2020, that number more than doubled to 46. In 2021, the most current data available, there were 34 dog bite-related hospitalizations, which was a decrease from 2020 but still increased compared to the years prior.

Dog bite injuries can be severe and may cause mental, emotional, and physical trauma. From 2018 through 2021, dog bites caused more than 165 fractures, 40 partial or complete amputations, and 10 detached ear lobes or lips in Idaho.

Dog bites also carry a risk of bacterial infection, which can be reduced with prompt medical care. A dog infected with rabies can transmit the virus before showing signs of rabies, which is fatal without prompt medical care after a bite.

Although dog bites can come from any dog at any time, most bites requiring hospitalization occur in summer months in Idaho.

Steps you can take to protect yourself and your family:

  • Remember that any dog can bite. At least one in five dog bites treated in Idaho are from a family dog. Any dog can bite, especially if it’s scared, injured, or sick. Read a dog's body language and give it space if it seems stressed. Leave a dog alone when it’s eating or sleeping. Make sure your dog is vaccinated against rabies.
  • Supervise babies and toddlers around dogs – even if it is the family dog. In Idaho, three out of 10 dog bite-related hospitalizations were for children 4 years and younger. Some of these bites occurred when the child and dog were alone together, even for just a minute. A bite can happen quickly, so supervise young children around all dogs, all the time. 
  • Prevent dog fights to prevent dog bites. Breaking up dog fights leads to more than 100 emergency department visits a year in Idaho. Dog trainers say there is no safe way to break up a dog fight. Prevent dog fights by reading the dogs' body language and, if possible, separate dogs before they start fighting.
  • Approach unfamiliar dogs with caution. Every year in Idaho, more than 90 emergency department visits are to treat patients with bites from stray or unfamiliar dogs. Approach any unfamiliar dogs with caution and contact Animal Control for assistance if needed. If you are bitten by a dog, you can also contact Animal Control for help getting the dog's vaccination history.
  • Seek medical care early and take care of wounds. Delayed medical care leads to about 65 infections each year in Idaho. Puncture wounds from a bite may be deeper than they appear, and prompt and thorough wound care is needed to avoid infection. Dogs vaccinated against rabies can still carry other germs. Your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics, rabies post-exposure treatment, and a tetanus vaccine. The recommended treatment will depend on the injury and the vaccination history of you and the dog.

Learn more:

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