How common are cat and dog bites?
Dog bites are the most common type of animal bite. Of the people who attend A&E departments with bites, 6 to 9 out of 10 have dog bites. Cat bites are less common. Around 5-20 out of every 100 people attending A&E with a bite have been bitten by a cat.
In the UK about 250,000 people each year go to an emergency department because they have been bitten by a dog. Probably many more bites occur but people do not see a doctor about them, so it is hard to be sure. In the USA, 4.5 million people are thought to be bitten by a dog every year, with 885,000 seeking medical attention. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally tens of millions of people are bitten by dogs each year.
Who is at risk?
Bites are caused most often by the owner's own pet or an animal known to them. Boys get bitten more than girls. Children are most commonly affected. Children are more likely to be bitten on the head or neck and are therefore more likely to have the more serious bites. Severe dog bites occur most often in children under the age of 5 years.
Some dogs are more dangerous than others. Those thought to be most dangerous include rottweilers, pit bull terriers, and German shepherd dogs, but even small dogs can inflict serious bites. Some that can cause the worst injury, such as pit bull terriers, are illegal to own in the UK.
Many animal bites are unprovoked. However, animals are more likely to bite if they are frightened, suddenly disturbed, or feel threatened.
Further reading and references
Bites - human and animal; NICE CKS, July 2015 (UK access only)
Ellis R, Ellis C; Dog and cat bites. Am Fam Physician. 2014 Aug 1590(4):239-43.
Morgan M, Palmer J; Dog bites. BMJ. 2007 Feb 24334(7590):413-7.
Abrahamian FM, Goldstein EJ; Microbiology of animal bite wound infections. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2011 Apr24(2):231-46. doi: 10.1128/CMR.00041-10.
Animal bites; World Health Organization (WHO) Fact sheet, February 2013
Controlling your dog in public; GOV.UK
Pasteurellosis: characteristics, diagnosis and management; Public Health England, May 2011
Dog bite prevention; American Vetinary Medical Association (AVMA)
Be safe with dogs; Blue Cross
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