Dog Bite Prevention Week at DoveLewis: Who, When and Why

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It’s National Dog Bite Prevention week! As the Safety Manager at DoveLewis, animal bites are always at the front of my proverbial stove. I would like to say that we have a zero bite record, but that would be false. As an emergency and critical care hospital, we see a predominance of animals presenting injured, in pain, and not at their best. We also see many stray animals brought in by Good Samaritans which means those patients are frightened and defensive in addition to being injured. Fortunately, we do not have many serious dog bites in the hospital. In fact, many more employees have been sent for emergency medical care following cat bites than dog bites. But this is dog bite prevention week, so I’ve pulled some of our records just to see look at any trends in reported dog bites from 2015-2016.

During that time period, we had 66 dog bites reported in our internal system. In the state of Oregon, ANY bite that is reported to a veterinarian must be recorded and reported to the appropriate county authorities. I encourage you to investigate your own state regulations to make sure your hospital is fulfilling its reporting duties. Anyhow, those 66 bites include the bites that happened before the pet arrives as well as those that happened in the hospital. The graph below shows that the majority of bites happened before arrival. Almost all of pre-hospital those bites occurred when owners tried to separate fighting dogs.

The next logical question is who is sustaining injury? The pie chart below shows that by and large it is the client (or Good Samaritan) who gets bit, followed by technicians, veterinarians and assistants. You will note that there are 44 client bites compared to 42 that happened before arrival. Unfortunately, this means 2 clients sustained bites INSIDE our hospital - not a happy circumstance. In one case, a leashed dog bit a client (not his owner) in our lobby. The other client sustained a bite wound from her own dog while waiting in an exam room (no veterinary personnel present).

What are the dogs targeting? The next graph shows what you already know; hands and arms are the easiest target. Face injuries, luckily infrequent in our setting, generally result in a trip to the hospital. What is the “Other” category you ask? Every single “Other” is due to incomplete information from a client or Good Samaritan. I suspect that most of them are also hand or arm bites. Sometimes the client simply does not want to tell the veterinarian what happened, and sometimes they do not know (e.g. “I think the other guy at the dog park was bitten but I’m not sure how seriously and I don’t know which dog bit him and I didn’t get his name or anything.”)

Finally, how serious are the reported dog bites? This is a tricky question. I can tell you exactly how serious every bite was that happened in our hospital because as the Safety Manager I end up investigating each injury. Fortunately, most of those 24 counted above were not serious enough to require a trip to the emergency room.  But for those bite injuries that are reported by the client, I can only guess. Our policy is to encourage any client who has sustained a bite to see their medical professional of choice as soon as possible. I know that at least 2 of those pre-hospital client bites reported to us resulted in multiple days of hospitalization and surgery for the clients involved. Employees who sustain a dog bite in hospital are handled just like any injury (first aid and cleaning of wound as indicated, trip to emergency as indicated, accurate and timely reporting always).

Based on the data, we can safely say that the majority of dog bites happen to clients before they reach our hospital.  The take home message here is…Don’t try to separate a dog fight with your hands or legs. With Dog Bite Prevention being recognized this week, we should be reminding our clients of this and also take a look at how hospital policies and client education can help to reduce dog bites in the future.

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