While dogs can be beloved family members and add various health benefits to people’s lives, all dogs can bite, regardless of how well trained they are, their age, or breed. Of the 4.5 million people who get bitten by dogs each year in the U.S., one in five require medical attention for their injuries. Children are at the highest risk for severe dog bite injuries, often to the head and neck. But most, if not all dog bites are preventable. For National Dog Bite Prevention Week (April 11-17), a coalition formed by veterinarians, animal behavior experts, and insurance representatives, is encouraging people to educate themselves and their loved ones about dog bite prevention.

Dog bites on the rise in the U.S.

According to data from State Farm, dog bite injuries significantly increased in 2020. The highest number of dog-related injury claims last year occurred in March, which was when states first went into lockdown at the start of the pandemic. The Insurance Information Institute reported that the amount paid for dog-related injury claims increased to a record high, with an average claim payment of more than $50,000 in 2020.

Experts say that lifestyle changes during the pandemic likely contributed to this increase, with dogs picking up on the stress of their owners, more people at home during the day, and less adult supervision as parents balance more responsibilities at home. With a surge in dog adoptions during the pandemic, experts fear another spike in dog bites as people return to work and other activities outside the home. In addition to a list of tips for transitioning pets to schedule changes, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) published the following tips to prevent dog bites.

  1. Socialize your dog to help them feel comfortable in different situations
  2. Be a responsible pet owner by properly training, exercising, and neutering or spaying your dog
  3. Educate yourself and your family about how and when to approach a dog
  4. Avoid risky situations including those where a dog is unleashed without its owner, the owner does not give permission to pet their dog, the dog is on the other side of a fence, or the dog is sleeping, eating, sick, or injured
  5. Pay attention to a dog’s body language so you can see if they are feeling stressed, frightened, or threatened

What to do if a dog bites you

If you or someone close to you has been attacked by a dog, you should take the following actions immediately:

  1. Call the police, who will document the attack and can confirm whether the dog has been vaccinated for rabies.
  2. Seek medical attention. Even the smallest of bites can cause serious infections. The AVMA recommends seeking emergency medical attention for bites that cause uncontrollable bleeding, fever, and wounds that are red, swollen, or painful.
  3. Photograph your injuries for documentation to use in settlement negotiations with the dog owner’s insurance company.
  4. Hire an experienced dog bite attorney to help you get full and fair compensation for your injuries.