Here’s a “safety talk” to have with your child: what to do when interacting with dogs. You’ve probably had many conversations about how to cross the street, how to deal with strangers and other safety concerns. But what are you teaching her about staying safe around dogs — your family’s or someone else’s?
About 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs every year in the US. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), children are the most common victims of dog bites. In fact, dog bite injury is one of the top nonfatal injuries to children. By teaching your children appropriate ways to interact with dogs, however, you can help your children avoid such situations.
How To Prevent a Bite
All dogs can bite if provoked, but most dog bites can be prevented. Never let young children play with a dog unsupervised, even the family pet. Remember that just because a dog is part of the family doesn’t mean she won’t bite. Educate your child about how to behave around all dogs, both familiar and unfamiliar.
If the dog is unfamiliar, ask the owner for permission before petting. Don’t be surprised if the answer is “no.” Many dogs are not socialized and can become aggressive around strangers. Don’t think that a dog will be friendly because of the breed or how cute it is. If the owner does give permission to pet the dog, let the dog see and sniff you first.
Then follow these tips:
DON’T disturb a dog who is eating. Many dogs are food aggressive and will bite if you take away their bone or that hot dog you dropped.
DON’T bother a dog who is sleeping or with her puppies.
DON’T pull a dog’s ears, immobilize a dog’s head with both hands or pull a dog’s tail.
DON’T put your face next to a dog’s face and stare at him nose to nose.
DON’T make loud noises next to a dog, such as screaming or blowing a loud horn.
DON’T try to “ride” a dog.
DON’T tease a dog.
DON’T reach through a fence to pet a dog.
DON’T play aggressively with a dog, such as rolling around.
DON’T go after a dog who doesn’t want to play anymore. The dog may try to hide or go to his bed to get away.
If a Bite Happens
Dog bites can be serious. In fact, the AVMA says one in five dog bites require medical attention. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends contacting your pediatrician for any animal bite that breaks the skin. Your child might need a tetanus shot or antibiotics. The CDC recommends the following care for dog bites.
For minor wounds:
Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. Apply an antibiotic cream. Cover the wound with a clean bandage.
Get medical care if the child develops a fever, the wound become red, painful, warm or swollen, or if the dog that bit the child starts acting strangely.
For deep wounds:
Apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Use a clean, dry cloth, if available. If you don’t stop the bleeding or if the child feels faint or weak, call 9-1-1. Get medical care right away.
Dog bites can cause problems from the spread of germs. The most serious disease is rabies, which can be spread through a bite from an infected animal. If not treated early, rabies is almost always fatal. Dogs are supposed to have routine rabies vaccinations.
If you do not know for sure that the dog that bit your child is current with its rabies vaccine, get information so that the authorities can find out. Obtain the dog owner’s name, address and phone number. Ask for the dog’s veterinarian contact information for verification of rabies vaccination.
Reporting in Texas
Texas has reporting requirements for animal bites. Call 3-1-1 to report the incident if your child did not need emergency care. Most animals that have bitten a person must either be quarantined or observed. All animal bites must be reported to Animal Protection. Owners of the dog involved must provide a current rabies vaccination certificate.
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer based in Austin.