4.5 Million Reasons to Worry About Being Bitten by a Dog

Sometimes it feels as if America is under assault from dangerous dogs. From our offices across the United States, we regularly hear gruesome stories about maulings by savage animals. Those horror stories are reinforced by frequent news reports of tragic attacks.

Truth to tell, it sometimes makes us concerned about returning home at night to our own pets.

Has the problem been exaggerated? Are we worrying too much? One way to get a true perspective on how dangerous dogs can be is to look at the statistics. Unfortunately, reading academic reports and looking up numbers isn’t much fun for most people. We thought it would be helpful to gather together some of today’s most revealing statistics.

This is that report.

Trends in Dog Ownership

The Humane Society of the United States has reported on trends in dog ownership, comparing statistics from a 2012 survey by the American Pet Products Association to numbers from the 2015-2016 edition of the U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook by the American Veterinary Medical Association. The records show that the number of households that own at least one dog has risen from 43.3 million to 54.4 million, and the number of pet dogs jumped from 70 million to 77.8 million. That means the average number of pet dogs per household dipped slightly, from 1.6 to 1.43.

Why this number might be bad news: Having multiple pets in a single home can be an important factor in socializing a dog—and a dog used to relating to a variety of other animals and humans is less likely to bite. Fewer homes having more than one dog may mean an increased incidence of dog attacks in the future.

How Common Are Dog Bites?

Surprisingly common. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are about 4.5 million dog bites every year in the United States. The majority of these, of course, are minor nips that receive medical care at home.

Children are most often the victims of animal attacks; kids under age 14 are the victims of 42 percent of dog bites. One estimate suggests that almost half of all children are bitten by a dog at some point in their lives. Over 359,000 children under age 14 were bitten by dogs between 2010 and 2012.

But children aren’t the only victims. Special attention should be given to work-related dog bites. When we look at people of working age (16 years old and up), we find that 7.9 percent of dog bite victims were attacked while on the job. These people include mail carriers, delivery persons, and home repairmen. And other statistics show that the elderly can be at risk for dog attacks; many older victims are grandparents who are babysitting or otherwise caring for their grandkids.

Your takeaway from these statistics: It’s clear that people of every age are vulnerable to animal attacks. Four and a half million dog bites annually means that, on average, every person in the United States has about a 1.3% chance of being bitten by a dog every year.

How Often Are the Results of a Dog Attack Serious?

Again, the CDC gives us some baseline statistics. It reports that in 1994, about 333,700 patients went to emergency rooms to be treated for dog bites. By 2001, the number of people treated had risen to 368,245 persons—an increase of over 10 percent in only seven years.

Of those people seeking treatment in an emergency room after a dog bite, approximately 1.8 percent had to be hospitalized for their injuries.

The next stop after a hospital room is often the surgery department. More than half (57.9 percent) of dog bite-related hospitalizations involve a surgical procedure, according to a 2010 report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. About 27,000 people have to receive reconstructive surgery each year for dog bite-related injuries.

High surgery rates help explain why dog bite-related hospital stays have an average cost of $18,200, about 50 percent more expensive than equally long hospitalizations for any other reason.

Infection is also a serious risk when dealing with dog bite injuries. A dog’s mouth is not a clean environment, and the puncture wounds caused by teeth can plant bacteria and viruses deep into the flesh. Almost 20 percent of all dog bites result in some kind of infection, including potentially deadly infections by rabies, Pasteurella, parvovirus, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and tetanus.

And some people die. There were 31 dog bite deaths in 2013. While young children in general are the most frequent victims of dog bites, it’s especially heartbreaking to learn that infants and toddlers up to age four are the most likely to die in a dog attack.

What you most need to know now: Some experts believe that dog bites have risen in number and severity since the 1980s. The trend is sharply upward across several measurement methods: people seeking medical help after a bite, those visiting emergency rooms, those who have been hospitalized, and death rates.

You Can Still Love Your Own Dog

A loyal and loving animal companion is a great asset to any household. Studies have shown that the dogs most likely to be aggressive or dangerous are those that have been ignored, abused, or poorly socialized for years. Civil law rightly holds that, in almost all cases, the dog owner is responsible for his pet’s misbehavior.

The statistics, however, remind us that we can’t be complacent. Under the right circumstances, any dog can bite. And that means any of us—or our friends, or our children—can be the next dog attack statistics reported on the nightly news.

So the ultimate lesson from all these numbers is that we need to be careful around strange dogs. Learn what it takes to avoid a dog bite. And if you or a loved one has been a victim of an aggressive animal, start an instant online chat by pressing the button on this page. We’ll give you the best advice we can base on our years of experience dealing with dog attacks.

James R. Keller
Connect with me
Partner at Keller & Keller