Dog-bite injuries in children peak in warm weather

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Young children appear to be at particular risk of dog-bite injuries to the head and neck, with most incidents happening during warmer weather, a study suggests.

A dog enjoys a respite from the summer heat in Chonburi province, 80 km (50 miles) east of Bangkok on May 8, 2003. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

In a review of injuries treated at their children’s hospital, researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo found that the incidence of head and neck dog-bite injuries peaked in the summer.

This may have to do with the fact that children are outdoors more in good weather, and that dogs tend to be more irritable in hot temperatures, the researchers report in the journal Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery.

The bottom line is that parents should be particularly cautious in warmer weather, Dr. Philomena M. Behar told Reuters Health.

Young children, especially, are at risk of dog bites because of their size and inability to sense danger, Behar said.

Of the 84 children the study, ages ranged from 10 months to 19 years, but the average age was 6. About half of the injured children were 4 years old or younger.

Behar’s team also found that the family pet was to blame in 27 percent of cases. Of dog breeds, pit bulls were most commonly involved.

“Family dogs caused injury a large part of the time,” Behar said, “and caution should be used by caregivers of small children when there are dogs around -- especially in warmer weather.”

In general, experts advise that parents teach children how to treat dogs -- telling them, for instance, that they should not pull a dog’s ears or tail, pet strange animals or reach through fences to touch a dog.

Training the family dog is also important. Commands, experts say, can build obedience and a bond of trust between the dog and owner. Dogs that are neutered are also less likely to bite.

SOURCE: Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, March 2009.