Dogs have a reputation as being man’s best friend, and while that is often true, the same may not always be true of the relationship between dogs and children. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are approximately 4.7 million dog bites every year in the United States. Of those, the Humane Society estimates that 51% of the victims are children.
Many people believe that certain dog breeds are more likely to bite than others, but this is largely a myth. The reality is that any dog can – and, depending on the circumstances, will – bite. Even the sweetest, friendliest dog is still a dog and if it feels threatened or is sick or in pain it may react by biting. Dogs that are not properly trained and socialized are even more likely to be reactive and bite when stressed.
When they do bite, dogs can cause serious injuries, with children being at a higher risk of sustaining severe injury. This is especially true of young children, who tend to suffer more bites to the face, likely due to their smaller stature and proximity to the ground which puts their face closer to the dog. The resulting injury may require extensive medical intervention and treatment by a plastic surgeon in an attempt to avoid obvious scarring and disfigurement. Depending on the location and severity of the bite, children may be left with serious, long-term consequences.
While there are many reasons why dogs bite, ultimately the owner is responsible for the dog’s behavior. A pet owner who fails to properly restrain their dog may be negligent if the dog attacks someone. If your child has suffered a dog bite, it is imperative that you speak with a child injury attorney who understands how to handle dog bite cases.
Why are children at greater risk of being bitten by a dog?
More than half of all dog bite victims in the U.S. are children. This statistic, while concerning, makes sense, considering that children:
- Often do not know how to safely approach or interact with dogs – especially strange dogs – and may not remember to ask the owner before touching the dog
- Are closer to the ground and therefore more likely to invade a dog’s space
- May not understand that they should not touch a dog’s food or get too close while the dog is eating
Children are just as likely to be bitten by a familiar dog as by a strange one, and bites can happen during everyday activities. It is simply not true that a dog will not bite the hand that feeds it. It will – depending on the circumstances or the dog’s personality. It will also bite the hand that pets it.
Are dog bites really that serious?
While most dogs are our furry family members, it is important to keep in mind that dog bites can be fatal. Even non-fatal injuries can be severe. When dogs bite, their sharp teeth compress the skin and tear it, causing a jagged wound. This can lead to scarring or disfigurement and can easily get infected if not properly treated and closed. Stitches are often required to close dog bite wounds. If the bite occurred on the face, a plastic surgeon should be consulted regarding treatment. Even if the dog bite is not on the face, plastic surgery may be required to help avoid permanent scarring or disfigurement.
Infection is actually the top concern with dog bites, according to the Cleveland Clinic. That is why it is vital that anyone who is bitten by a dog – especially a child – receives medical attention as soon as possible. This is especially true depending on the number of bites and the age of the child who was attacked. Depending on the severity or location of the bite or bites, a trip to the emergency room may be necessary. Even if the wound seems minor, the child’s pediatrician should still be consulted right away and the wound should be washed immediately. If a parent or caregiver is unsure of the severity of the wound, they should call 9-1-1 for assistance. Where dog bites are concerned, it is always better to err on the side of caution and seek medical attention immediately.
Taking your child to the doctor as soon as possible after a dog bite is also important because it will provide documentation of the child’s injuries and medical treatment. This information will be vital in building a legal case if your child’s injuries are severe and require expensive medical care such as surgery, or if your child suffers permanent scarring or disfigurement due to the dog bite.
This documentation may also be helpful if your child suffers psychological or emotional trauma following the attack. An attack by a dog may result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for a child, which can present itself in several ways, including through fear and anxiety, nightmares, or changes in the child’s personality or behavior.
What if a child is bitten by a stranger’s dog?
While a dog biting a child is never a good thing, it may be somewhat easier to manage if the dog involved is:
- The child’s family dog or the dog of another family member
- The dog of a friend or neighbor
- The dog’s owner is known and can be contacted immediately, or is present and stays on site after the biting incident
If your family dog bites your child, at least you know whether or not the dog is up to date on all immunizations – and you have those records handy. This is also typically true if the dog belongs to a friend or neighbor, or if the dog’s owner is known and can quickly be contacted for information or is present and can answer these questions immediately.
On the other hand, if a strange dog bites your child and runs off, your child may have to be treated for rabies. The treatment is painful but must be initiated immediately unless the dog’s immunization records can be accessed to confirm its immunizations are current. Without that information – or if there is any delay in getting that information – rabies treatment must be started because rabies is nearly always fatal in humans and by the time clinical symptoms appear it is typically too late.
If your child was attacked and bitten by a dog, a child injury attorney such as the lawyers at McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC can help. We understand the pain and suffering of dog bite victims, and the emotional and financial strain such an incident may cause for your family. Reach out to us today to schedule a free consultation with a South Carolina child injury attorney. Call the firm at 803-327-7800 or complete our contact form.