Study: Dog-Bite Hospitalizations Nearly Doubled Over 15 Years

A new government study found a shocking increase in the number of hospitalizations and inpatient treatment from dog bites over the 15-year period from 1993 to 2008. The number of people requiring treatment for serious injuries from domestic animal attacks nearly doubled — even though pet ownership increased only slightly over the period studied.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a federal research agency, analyzed data from two national databases: the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample for 2008 and the Nationwide Inpatient Sample for 1993-2008.

The analysis found that 5,100 people had been hospitalized for dog bites in 1993, while 9,500 people bitten by aggressive dogs required hospital treatment in 2008. Overall, nearly 866 Americans sought emergency room treatment for dog bites every day in 2008, and around 26 of those people were admitted to the hospital.

The increase in serious dog bites outstripped population growth and the small increase in dog ownership over the period.

“It’s really kind of frightening, and unfortunately, we’re at a loss to explain it,” said Anne Elixhauser, a senior research scientist with the Agency and the report’s author. “It’s a pretty hefty increase.”

Dog-Bite Injuries to Children Under 5, Seniors Most Likely to Require Hospitalization

Children under 5 and people over 65 were most likely to require hospitalization after a dog bite, according to the report. Nearly half of dog bite victims who were admitted to hospitals required treatment for infections, and more than half needed skin grafts, wound debridement, reconstructive surgery or other major procedures. The average cost of treatment for a dog bite was $18,200.

Interestingly, people from rural areas were four times more likely to need emergency room treatment for a dog bite than their urban neighbors. Rural residents were three times as likely to be admitted to a hospital for serious injuries. It is unclear whether that means there are more negligent dog owners in rural areas or if some other factor is responsible for the increased risk of dog bites to people who live outside of cities.

Whenever someone is seriously bitten by a dog, the results can be extremely serious. Dog bite injuries can be medically serious, disfiguring and emotionally traumatic. Please do your part to socialize your dog, spay or neuter your pet, and keep people safe.

Source: The New York Times, “Risks: Hospital Admissions for Dog Bites Are on the Rise,” Roni Caryn Rabin, December 10, 2010