Children chiefly at risk for dog attacks

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This year, ER24 responded to a total of 103 dog attacks. A recent case was where a 6-month-old baby boy was killed after he was bitten multiple times by a dog in Primrose in Johannesburg. A woman was also recently attacked by three dogs in Moreleta Park. Although dog attacks can happen anywhere and to anyone, children are still more vulnerable to these incidents.

Shannon McKay, Chairperson of the Animal Behavior Consultants of SA explains why. “This is probably due to two reasons; namely size and knowledge. A child’s smaller size and their more active body movements could simultaneously cause a dog to feel less concern for potential retaliation and their prey drive toward smaller animals could be triggered by a child’s erratic movements. Most children are also less skilled at interpreting canine body language and are thus less likely to diffuse or avoid an aggressive encounter. For these reasons, parents should not allow unsupervised interaction between dogs and children,” said Shannon.

She also explains that it is not always possible to say why dogs attack people. “It would be like trying to answer why people attack other people. There are a multitude of possible reasons – poor genetics, inappropriate environment, incorrect raising, inadvertent training, poor health, past experiences, etc. If all dogs were to be ethically bred, appropriately socialised and managed according to their individual nature the instances of maulings would decrease substantially.”

Shannon does offer suggestions to reduce the possibility of attacks. “The most important consideration is proper management of the dog. Being aware of signals that a dog is moving into an uncomfortable, anxious or aggressive mindset is crucial. Subtle signs that point to these states can be tongue flicks, yawns, turning the head or body away or even walking away. More intense signals can include closing of the mouth, stiffening of the body, growling, staring or walking slowly toward the intended victim. These signs are often ignored or not noticed for a period of time and then an attack appears to come out of the blue, yet it had been brewing for a long time. If a dog owner has any concerns, they should consult an accredited canine behaviour consultant for immediate assistance. Furthermore, dog owners need to acquire, house and manage their dog appropriately. If a large breed dog is acquired for the purposes of protection, the dog should be very strictly managed and controlled.”

We asked Dr. Robyn Holgate, ER24’s Chief Medical Officer, if one should always see a medical practitioner when you’ve been bitten by a dog and also what the treatment would usually consist of. Her advice: “If the dog is unfamiliar, and you are unable to manage the injury with basic first aid at home, it’s best to see a doctor.

“Clinically, we would triage the severity of the injury. Patients who have sustained severe injuries should be resuscitated first. Treatment may involve direct pressure to stop the bleeding and attention to the airway and breathing. The decision on whether to suture a wound or not is best left to your doctor, as some wounds with a high risk for infection may be left open to heal by secondary intention (a wound is left open and closes naturally). Wounds on the face should only be sutured by a specialist after extensive cleaning and irrigation. Most patients with minor bite wounds can be treated as out patients. The key to preventing infection and promoting wound healing is wound cleaning and disinfection. Routine antibiotic prophylaxis is not recommended for all bite wounds. Tetanus prophylaxis should be considered if not vaccinated in the past 5 years. The decision to start rabies prophylaxis is based on whether there are any current rabies outbreaks and what is known about the incident and dog. We use a wound classification to decide on whether immunoglobulin and/ or the vaccine should be given,” said Robyn.

ER24 is urging pet owners to take good care of their dogs by ensuring they are well socialised and trained from a young age, and kept securely on their property. Also remember to make sure that your animals are taken care of while you are on holiday this festive season, whether by a pet sitter or at a kennel. Ensure your animals have sufficient shelter, water and food during this time, and especially during the hot summer months. We’re also urging people to avoid approaching unfamiliar dogs and to report stray dogs to the relevant authorities. Children should also be educated about how to act around and take care of their dogs.

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