Veterinarians team up with plastic surgeons for dog bite prevention week - May 15, 2003

National Dog Bite Prevention Week, May 18-24
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This May's National Dog Bite Prevention Week, May 18-24, marks the first year AVMA serves as primary host of the education campaign. AVMA has participated in past dog bite prevention weeks with other health care organizations. Once again, the AVMA will team up with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons to promote responsible dog ownership.

"This is an excellent opportunity for veterinarians to work side by side with our human health care colleagues to educate the public that responsible dog ownership and appropriate behavior around dogs benefit the well-being of dogs and people," said AVMA President Joe M. Howell.

"More than 61 million dogs in the United States make great pets and enrich our lives tremendously. Unfortunately, any dog can also bite."

Each year, nearly 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs. As many as 800,000 people, more than half of them children, require medical attention for dog bites annually, and about a dozen people die each year of dog bite injuries.

"Children are frequently bitten on the face, which can result in severe lacerations, infection, or scarring," said ASPS President James Wells, MD. "Plastic surgeons, who have the training to preserve and rearrange skin and tissue, repair wounds from thousands of dog attacks every year."

In 2002, the two organizations sent a joint press release to trade, consumer and pet specialty media outlets, with positive results. By working together, the AVMA and ASPS achieved a broader educational outreach.

Committed to educating the public about this important health issue, the AVMA and ASPS have educational resources available on their Web sites, and, and have developed the following tips to help dog owners; adults and children avoid dog bites.

"Following these dog bite prevention tips and educating the public will help prevent attacks," Dr. Wells said.

Safety tips for dog owners

  • Before getting a dog, seek the advice of a veterinarian about which dog is right for your family and your lifestyle.
  • Socialize your dog so it feels at ease around people and other animals.
  • Don't put your dog in situations where it may feel threatened or be teased.
  • Follow leash laws. Don't let your dog roam freely.
  • Train your dog to consistently obey basic commands such as "stay," "sit," and "come."
  • Keep your dog healthy with regular check-ups and a vaccination program tailored to your dog's needs.
  • See a veterinarian promptly if your dog is sick or injured. Illness and pain can make a dog more likely to bite.
  • Don't play aggressive games with your dog.
  • Spay or neuter your dog.
  • Confine your dog in a fenced yard or dog run when it is not in the house. Never tether or chain your dog because this can contribute to aggressive behavior.

Safety tips for adults and children

  • Never approach an unfamiliar dog.
  • If approached by an unfamiliar dog, stand still like a tree.
  • Never run from a dog and never scream around a dog.
  • If you believe a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.
  • If a dog knocks you over, roll into a ball, cover your face and stay still.
  • Children should never play with dogs unless supervised by an adult.
  • Children should tell an adult if they see a stray dog or a dog acting strangely.
  • Don't look a dog right in the eye.
  • Don't disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
  • Don't play with a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first. Children should never approach a dog unless supervised by an adult.
  • Adults should never leave an infant or young child alone with any dog, not even the family pet.

If bitten

  • Seek medical attention immediately.
  • Control bleeding and wash the area of the bite with soap and water.
  • Because serious dog bites can cause scarring, ask emergency room personnel for a plastic surgeon certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery. This ensures that the doctor is uniquely qualified to perform reconstructive and cosmetic procedures on the face and all areas of the body.
  • Report the bite to your local public health department, animal control agency, or police.
  • Provide authorities with an accurate description of the dog, the circumstances surrounding the bite, and the dog owner's identity, if known.