Idahoans are well-known to be dog lovers – many households have more than one dog, and parks and trails are full of our canine buddies. It’s important to keep in mind that even though our pups are outdoor adventure companions and indoor snuggle-buddies, they are still animals that could lash out if they feel threatened.
Injuries from dog bites are increasing in Idaho, especially among children. 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.
Dog bite injuries can be severe and may cause mental, emotional, and physical trauma. In the past four years, dog bites have caused more than 165 fractures, 40 partial or complete amputations, and 10 detached ear lobes or lips in Idaho. Dog bites carry a risk of bacterial infection, which can be reduced with prompt medical care. A dog infected with rabies virus can transmit the virus before showing signs of rabies, which is fatal without prompt medical care after a bite.
Dog bite injuries requiring an emergency department visit or hospital stay in Idaho are highest in summer. A bite could come from any dog at any time, but during the summer take extra care to protect yourself and your family from bites.
Steps you can take to protect yourself and your family:
- Remember that any dog can bite. At least 1 in 5 dog bites treated in an Idaho emergency department are from a family dog. Any dog can bite, especially if it is scared, injured, or sick. Read a dog's body language and give it space if it seems stressed. Leave a dog alone when it is 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, 3 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. The 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 the rabies virus 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.
- Tips for children to prevent dog bites from World Health Organization: https://apps.who.int/rabies/resources/educational_material_children/en/index.html
- How to read dog body language from American Veterinary Medical Association: https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/how-read-dog-body-language
- Rabies information from Idaho Department of Health and Welfare: https://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/health-wellness/diseases-conditions/rabies
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.