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love bites: petplan pet insurance takes a look at why dogs bite

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

A few weeks ago (May 15-21) was National Dog Bite Prevention Week. While it is important to know how to prevent your dog (and the rest of your family) from getting bitten, it is also imperative that you understand why dogs bite.


Most, if not all, dog bites are preventable with early intervention. Being a responsible pet parent includes ensuring that your pet does not become a statistic in the dog bite tally (either as the biter or the bitten). Here are a few tips to avoid a toothy situation:


•  Make sure your dog knows basic commands. “Sit,” “stay,” and “come” are invaluable tools to control your dog. 


•  Make sure your pet is spayed or neutered. Studies show that neutered pets are less likely to show aggressive behavior.


•  Keep your pet on a leash when out and about, and encourage your friends to do the same. Even though you may have the sweetest pup on the block, you never know what she may do if she feels threatened by a strange dog running up to her.


•  Keep your pet healthy. Pets that are injured or are in pain from chronic conditions like osteoarthritis may bite unexpectedly.


Dogs have a limited number of ways to communicate with each other, and sometimes they rely on us to help them understand how to react in situations that are foreign to them, such as in crowds, dog parks and around children. To help them be more comfortable and less fearful in these situations, socialize your dog to other people and dogs at a young age. The more comfortable she becomes around non-family members and strange dogs, the less likely she is to bite out of fear.


Beware of dog?


Just because you don’t have an “aggressive” dog does not mean that she can’t be prone to incidents of aggression when provoked. There are many types of aggression, ranging from territorial (defense of perceived property), to fear (your dog believes she is in danger), to redirected aggression, when your dog lashes out at the nearest thing (even if it is her housemate) out of anger.


If you notice aggressive tendencies in your dog, you should seek the help of a professional trainer recommended by your veterinarian. Even two dogs that have lived together since birth can turn on each other in the wrong situation.  


Once bitten


If your dog is the victim of a dog attack, do not try to reach in to break up the fight.  Many people have been inadvertently bitten by their own dog or the attacking dog when attempting to quiet the brawl. Once the dust settles, carefully check your dog for wounds, focusing especially around the neck and ears.


If there are open wounds, do your best to obtain the other dog’s medical records before you head to the vet to ensure that he or she has been properly vaccinated against rabies.  Accidents like this are just another reason to make sure that your pet is always up to date on her rabies vaccine. If the fight was serious, and you believe your dog to be in grave danger, go straight to your veterinarian or emergency center. You can always find medical records at a later time.


Biting the hand that feeds


A quick word on preventing bites to people is also in order. Each year, nearly five million people are bitten by dogs, and last year alone there were 33 deaths associated with dog attacks. Of those five million people bitten, about one million sought medical attention, with over half of those being children. 


It is important to remember that ANY dog can bite (even your own precious pooch).  In fact, most people are actually bitten by dogs that they know or are familiar with.  Dog bites to other dogs and people are a serious matter, especially when children are involved.  Do your best to ensure that they do not occur under your watch.

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Dr. Ernie Ward, Jr.Veterinary Advisory Board of Petplan
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