Continuing to Sound the Dog Bite Alarm


I continue to sound a warning alarm regarding an increasing number of dog bites. The latest California data, just released, shows increased rates of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and even deaths from dog bites, with new records set after COVID lockdowns. In 2022, there were 48,596 ER visits for dog bites in California, or 125 visits per 100,000 residents, a 70 percent increase in the rate of visits from 2005, according to the state Department of Health Care Access and Information.

The rate of dog bite-related hospitalizations roughly doubled from 2006 through 2022. And although deaths from dog bites are extremely rare, the death rate in California rose an astounding 70 percent during roughly the same period, with 28 deaths in the state from 2018 through 2022. As far as dog bite-related records have been kept, it’s never been this high.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comparing 2011 with 2021, between 2011 and 2018, the number of dog bite related deaths hovered around 20, on average nationally. Unfortunately, 2018 through 2021, national deaths resulting from dog bites more than doubled, the CDC reported. While the number of dogs has significantly risen, that number has not doubled.

Even before the pandemic, more Americans were welcoming dogs into their homes. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that households nationwide owned about 86 million dogs in 2020, up from about 62 million in 2001. Today, estimates vary but hover around 90 million pet dogs in the U.S.

Though a recent study did not show a nationwide increase in the rate of ER visits for dog bites from 2005 through 2018, several national studies did show a rise in the proportion of ER visits due to dog bites during the pandemic.

So, why more dog bites and also significant bites?

According to a story in the California Desert Sun, those pandemic era puppies couldn’t attend public training classes and therefore weren’t properly socialized. Dr. Ian Dunbar says that socialization issue may have worsened over the pandemic, but it’s been a problem and continues to be. And he writes about the issue in his latest book, Dr. Dunbar Barking Up the The Right Tree: The Science and Practice of Positive Dog Training.

A 2019 California law required animal shelters and rescue groups to disclose a dog’s bite history to anyone adopting it. However, this fact may be unknown by the shelter or rescue. And even when known well-meaning adopters want to save dogs. And stretching to impress their donors, shelters – particularly those self-identified as no-kill – will do all they can to adopt a dog who has been “re-trained,” often using aversive training methods. These dogs are ticking time bomb.

State figures and a recent study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association public health researchers show that, in California, like throughout the country, children and young adults are the age groups most likely to make ER visits for dog bites. Nationwide, children under five years of age were more than twice as likely to die from dog bites as members of other age groups, according to CDC data from 2018 to 2022.

There are many reasons for this, including where mid-sized and large dogs can reach on children, which include the head and neck and therefore inflict more significant damage.

Much of the time when there are serious bites to young children, there was no adult supervision when the dog attacked, and the dog might have been provoked (from the dog’s point of view).

Interestingly, according to California data, serious Dog Bite Injuries Are More Common in Rural California | Created with Datawrapper. The rate of ER encounters for dog bites in 2022 was almost 50 percent higher in counties with fewer than 200,000 people. Modoc, Inyo, Lake, and Siskiyou counties had the highest rates of ER encounters. One explanation might be that dogs in rural areas are often not as socialized as their urban cousins. Rural residents also tend to have more dogs.

Also, playing a role are the increasing number of large dogs adopted. Some argue breed plays a role, however this theory has been debunked by numerous studies worldwide. Besides, when attempting to identify breed, the breed is often misidentified. Still, a larger dog can simply inflict more damage.

Various other factors are likely contributing to increasing dog bites, even climate change.

Bottom line – in line with the Fear Free initiative (to minimize fear, anxiety and stress in pets –  we need to do better regarding dog bite prevention.