With many families still quarantining in their homes to keep safe from the coronavirus, pets are enjoying the everlasting company of their owners like never before. But the constant attention, especially from youngsters, has a downside.
Doctors in Colorado are reporting “startling” rates of child emergency room visits for dog bites since the start of stay-at-home orders, and even as restrictions ease, attacks continue to send kids to the hospital.
This spring, visits for dog bites to Children’s Hospital Colorado have nearly tripled those of last year at the same time. The doctors blame decreased adult supervision of kids around dogs and heightened pandemic-related stress for both pets and owners.
And the events are not unique to the state, the experts warn in a commentary published in the Journal of Pediatrics; about 82 million children and 77 million pet dogs in the U.S. are living in close quarters during the pandemic, together experiencing the challenges of isolation.
“Dogs can be amazing companions and enrich our lives in so many ways; however it’s important to remember that any dog can bite given the right circumstance,” commentary author Dr. Cinnamon Dixon, an emergency medicine physician at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said in a news release. “Recognizing the intense pressures and responsibilities that families are under, it is critical that parents and caregivers of children prioritize the best way to prevent dog bites - which is to always, always supervise infants and children whenever they are near a dog.”
Hospitals typically see a surge in dog bites in the summertime when hot weather and increased outdoor activity can trigger pets to act out. Canines are also more likely to bite when “protecting their property, toys and food,” the doctors said, or when they’re sick, “excited or frightened.”
As well, children between the ages of 5 and 9 have the highest risk of getting bitten by a dog, with most attacks occurring to the head and neck, according to the doctors.
“Of the nearly 340,000 emergency department visits for dog bite injuries each year — equating to more than 900 per day — more than 40% of the victims are children and adolescents,” the doctors noted.
One of the reasons dogs are biting more than usual is because of “emotional contagion” — when pet dogs mirror “emotions and stress levels” of their owners, according to the doctors. Parents may be dealing with learning how to work from home while juggling financial stresses and childcare.
And while parents deal with virtual meetings and workload, children, who would usually be at school or daycare, may not be supervised properly. This could increase the likelihood of negative interactions between dog and child that lead to an attack.
“Thus, now more than ever, we urge healthcare providers, public health professionals, and injury control experts to strengthen and increase advocacy and educational efforts for prevention in order to minimize dog bites,” the doctors wrote.
Experts advise to never disturb a dog when sleeping or eating, avoid running away from dogs, teach children to move slowly around pets and to keep dogs healthy by keeping up with veterinary care.