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Be dog safe, warns surgeon as NHS figures show an increase in hospital admissions for dog bites; averaging at nearly 8000 a year

06 Jun 2019

Latest figures show NHS hospitals have seen an almost 5% increase in dog-related admissions between 2015 and 2018.

Figures show an average of around 7,693 admissions to NHS hospitals a year for dog-related injuries, with a total of 23,078 between 2015 and 2018.


The Royal College of Surgeons has urged dog lovers to remember that while dogs may be man’s best friend they can, and at times do, bite. Latest NHS Digital figures show that more than 23,000 hospital admissions in the past three years were related to people being bitten or struck by dogs. 

Hospital admissions for dog-related injuries increased by nearly 5% over the past three years, with 7,658 admissions in 2015/16, 7,433 in 2016/17 and 7,987 admissions in 2017/18.1 Children and young people, under 18 years old, made up around 21% (4,775) of the total admissions between 2015 and 2018. This is a total of 23,078 hospital admissions for dog-related injuries between 2015 and 2018.

While this increase in admissions could be due to a number of factors, such as people becoming more cautious about getting dog bites checked by a medic; the dog population has stayed pretty stagnant with 24-26% of the UK population reportedly owning a dog.2 However, smaller breeds of dogs have become more popular. The most popular breed in the UK in 2015 was a Labrador, but in 2018 this had switched a smaller breed, the French Bulldog.3

Professor Vivien Lees, a Consultant Plastic Surgeon and Council Member at the Royal College of Surgeons, has urged the public to take extra care when interacting with dogs, as trauma surgeons report seeing a spike in injuries sustained from dog bites. 

Professor Lees, who is based in Manchester and often treats dog-related injuries, said:

“Over the past few years I have seen an increase in the number of dog-related injuries I deal with. The injuries range from fairly minor to life changing. Across the UK, 23,078 admissions over the past three years is a strain on the health service and is becoming a public health issue.

“It’s worth remembering that even smaller, less intimidating breeds, such as those that have become more popular,3 are still capable of causing significant damage, particularly to babies. While it’s reassuring that children and young people are not disproportionally being admitted for dog-related injuries, the impact that dog bites have on babies can be fatal and, of course, this is of great concern.

“Being bitten by a dog is a traumatic experience, so learning how best to interact with dogs in a way that prevents injuries is important. If you are bitten by a dog, remember you should always seek medical advice if the bite has broken the skin.”

If bitten by a dog, Professor Lees advises people to: 

Clean the wound immediately by running warm tap water over it for a couple of minutes, even if the skin does not appear to be broken.
Remove any objects from the bite such as teeth, hair or dirt.
If the wound is not already bleeding freely then encourage it to do so by gently squeezing it.
If the wound is bleeding heavily, put a clean pad or sterile dressing over it and apply pressure. 
Dry the wound and cover it with a clean dressing or plaster. 
Seek medical advice. 

Dr Carri Westgarth, a lecturer in human-animal interaction at the University of Liverpool, advises the public to get to know their dogs. She says that it is important they learn to read their pet dog’s body language, including the more subtle warning signs, such as excessive lip licking.4 

Dr Westgarth, said: “The chance of being bitten by pet dogs is often underestimated because of the relationship that people have with their pets. Many people think that they’re more likely to be bitten by a stranger’s dog but actually most people are bitten by dogs they know.
 
“Sometimes the assumption is that dogs only bite when provoked and this idea can lead to victim blaming. How people interact with dogs can be an influence, however bite risk can be increased by many other factors such as a dog’s environment or genetics.

“Dog owners can take preventative measures to reduce the risk of their dog(s) biting either owners or others. For instance, careful and considered selection of a dog - only buy dogs from reputable breeders; visit the dog in its home environment and meet its parents to observe their mannerisms; ensure your new dog attends a reputable training class; never leave young children and dogs alone together; and seek immediate professional behavior advice if your dog shows any signs of nervousness or aggression.”

Liverpool postwoman Clair Kami, 26, was delivering mail when she was bitten by a dog. As she knelt down to get a small parcel from her mail satchel, a loose dog which had escaped from a house across the road ran over and attacked her, biting into her lower left leg. Clair fought to get the dog off and her screams alerted nearby neighbours who came to her aid. The dog owner had accidentally left the door and side gate to the house open. The dog owner agreed to have the dog voluntarily destroyed. Clair was admitted to hospital overnight due to the severity of the bite wound and the following morning she underwent emergency surgery to successfully repair her leg.  

Ms. Kami said: “The whole experience of being attacked by a dog was shocking and disorienting. I cringe at the idea of it happening to anyone else and I’m forever thankful to the regional burns and plastic surgery team at Whiston hospital who were amazing and worked exceptionally hard to allow me to continue to have mobility in my left leg. 

“I would advise dog owners to ensure your dogs are in another room before answering the door and make sure children don’t open the door, as dogs can push by them and attack. Giving your dog food or a toy to occupy them while your mail is being delivered can help keep them calm. Also, if your dog likes to attack your mail person, consider installing a wire letter receptacle. It will protect your post, and your postman’s fingers.”

 

Notes to editors

1. Over the same period the UK population has grown by a projected estimation of around 2% between 2015 and 2018, so admissions have grown at a faster rate. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates#timeseries 

2. Historical pet population data presented by the Pet Food Manufacturers  Association (PFMA): https://www.pfma.org.uk/historical-pet-population 

3. Breed registration statistics collected by The Kennel Club: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/registration/breed-registration-statistics/

4. Advice on understanding pet behaviour from the RSPCA: https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/dogs/behaviour/understanding  

5. NHS Digital provided the RCS with figures for finished hospital admission episodes (FAEs) for dog-related injuries, using the following external cause codes: 
W54 - Bitten or struck by dog 2015-16 to 2017-18. The data, for counts of dog-related injuries cause code, is displayed by month, for 2015-16 to 2017-18, and is available upon request. The data is for activity in English NHS Hospitals and English NHS commissioned activity in the independent sector. FAE is not a count of people – it is a count of admissions, so these figures cannot be used to suggest the precise number of people who have been admitted for a condition, because it is possible some people may have been admitted more than once within the same year.

6. The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

7. For more information, please contact the Press Office: telephone: 020 7869 6047/6052; email: pressoffice@rcseng.ac.uk out of hours media enquiries: 07966 486832.

 

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