National Dog Bite Prevention Week: how to protect you and your family

April 9, 2024
Dr. Kris Carter, Division of Public Health

We all love having pets and they say dogs are man’s best friend. But dogs can bite in playful and protective ways. Any dog — big or small, young or old, male or female — can bite. 

Nearly 90 million dogs live in U.S. households. Each year, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs. Most dog bite victims are children. More than 800,000 people get medical care for these bites each year.

It’s a problem in Idaho as well. Dog bite-related injuries are increasing in Idaho, and visits to Idaho emergency departments for dog bite-related injuries increased nearly 20% from 1,355 in 2020 to 1,608 in 2023. Hospitalizations for dog bite-related injuries in Idaho increased by over 80% from an average of 22 per year before the COVID-19 pandemic to 40 in 2022. Even more concerning are deaths after dog bites-- in the last five years, four Idahoans died of dog bites. 

Steps you can take to protect yourself and your family:

  • Remember that any dog can bite. About one in five visits to emergency departments in Idaho for dog bite-related injuries were due to bites from the family dog (where information was available). Any dog can bite, especially if it’s startled, scared, injured, or sick. Dogs bite to protect something valuable to them, like their puppies, food, or a toy. Dogs may bite in play, too. 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 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. Half the time, the dog fights were between the injured person’s own dogs. Dog trainers say there is no safe way to break up a dog fight. Prevent dog fights by reading the dogs' body language. If possible, separate dogs before they start fighting. 
  • Approach unfamiliar dogs with caution. Many emergency department visits in Idaho are to treat patients with bites from stray or unfamiliar dogs. Always ask before petting someone’s dog. Contact animal control services* for help with stray or injured dogs. If you are bitten by a dog, animal control services can help get the dog's vaccination history.
  • Seek medical care early and take care of wounds. Waiting to get medical care leads to infection. Puncture wounds from a bite may be deeper than they appear. Prompt and thorough wound care is needed to avoid infection. Dogs vaccinated against rabies can still carry other germs. The treatment your healthcare provider recommends will depend on the injury, your other health conditions, and the vaccination histories of you and the biting dog.

If you or someone you know is bitten, it’s important to wash the wound immediately and consider medical evaluation. Prompt medical care can reduce the risk of dog bite-related complications. Good wound care will help prevent infection. Your healthcare provider might recommend antibiotics, a tetanus shot, and shots to protect against rabies. Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus. A dog infected with the rabies virus can spread it by a bite before it looks sick. Healthcare, public health, veterinary, and animal control staff work together to help determine the risk of rabies from a dog bite.

Learn more: 

*Idaho CareLine (2-1-1) can help you find animal control services in your location.

Dr. Kris Carter is the CDC Career Epidemiology Field Officer in the Division of Public Health.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at 

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