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 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year in the US. And according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), over 359,000 children ages 1 to 14 were bitten by dogs in a single two-year period. In fact, dog bite injury is one of the top nonfatal injuries to children. Clearly, childhood injury from dog bites is a real risk.

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 looks.

If the owner gives 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 his 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, such as screaming or blowing a loud horn, right next to a dog.
  • DON’T try to “ride” a dog.
  • DON’T play aggressively with a dog, such as physically rolling around.
  • DON’T tease a dog.
  • DON’T reach through a fence to pet a dog.
  • DON’T go after a dog who has had enough and 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. And 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 wound becomes red, painful, warm or swollen; the child gets a fever 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 can’t stop the bleeding or if the child feels faint or weak, call 9-1-1 right away.
  • Get medical care right away.

Disease Risk 

Dog bites can cause problems from the spread of germs. The most serious disease is rabies. Rabies is spread by bite from an infected animal. It is almost always fatal if not treated early. 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 the 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 in Austin.

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