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News & Views July 2018 Issue

Few Deaths from Dog Attacks Each Year, and They’re Largely Preventable

Exceedingly few people die from dog bites or other types of canine attacks. In fact, very few people die because of altercations with animals of any kind. In a study released in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine this year, researchers combing data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention found that during the eight years spanning 2008 to 2015, only about 200 people a year died from unfortunate interactions with animals. Farm animals like horses, cows, and pigs, along with other mammals that included cats and raccoons, were responsible for the most deaths to people — 72 per year. Next came deaths from venomous animals — not snakes so much but, rather, hornets, wasps, and bees. They resulted in an average of 60 deaths each year.

Third in line came dogs; bad interactions with them translated to an average of 34 deaths annually.

Even one death resulting from a bad interaction with a dog is too many, of course, but the chances it will happen to you or a loved one are infinitesimally low. To put the number in context, 34 dog-related deaths a year in our country amounts to less than one death per 10 million people.

More concerning is that young children are overrepresented when it comes to dying from unfortunate incidents involving dogs. Among children age four or younger, the incidence of death resulting from dog encounters gone wrong was 4.6 per 10 million people — still very low but a good four times higher than in the general population.

If there’s a silver lining in this, it’s that the loss of very young human lives caused by unfortunate interactions with dogs is largely preventable. As we have said a number of times in these pages, no child under the age of six should ever be left along with a dog under any circumstances, no matter how gentle the dog and no matter how sweet the child. Small children simply don’t have the ability to distinguish between appropriate behavior and behavior that the dog would find provocative and “triggering.”

For instance, an infant crawling around won’t think anything of startling a sleeping dog by bumping right into her. Likewise, a toddler or preschooler might want to press a dog’s eyeballs to see if they’re squidgy, like a teddy bear’s. And a child running past a dog with a cookie in his hand might not realize that the cookie — and, in the bargain, whatever’s attached to it — might prove too tempting. Even a tolerant, docile dog who has never shown any aggressive behavior in the past cannot be counted on to let a child’s “transgressions” go 100 percent of the time.

The same way you wouldn’t leave your very young child alone with a pot of water boiling on the stove or an unprotected outlet, you should not leave him or her alone with a dog, either. If you must go out of the room, either take the child with you or secure the dog in her crate.

These measures won’t prevent every single dog-related death among young children, but they will go a very long way. 

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