A lick, a kick and then a trip to hospital - Dog bites and children

In the last decade, 356 children have been admitted to Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick with dog bite injuries, and alarmingly, in 49 per cent of cases the injuries were inflicted by the family pet.

New research conducted by plastic surgeons Dr Pouria Moradi, Consultant and Dr Admad Sulaiman, Surgical Research Fellow examined data from 2011-2020 to analyse the type of injuries and the extent of medical intervention required to care for children after being bitten by a dog, which also found that on average children were just five years of age when presenting and often required at least one day admission following surgery. 

Younger children tend to present with more facial injuries, while older children have more hand injuries. The main injuries we see in the face region are bites to the cheek, lips and nose, all delicate areas requiring surgical repair under general anaesthetic,” Dr Moradi said.

Of the children who presented to the hospital for care, almost 60 per cent had injuries to the face, another almost 16 per cent the neck area with hand injuries the third most common area affected at just over 11 per cent.

Many of these cases filter through to the plastic surgery department, and while we can quantify the substantial financial cost of these cases which often involves surgery, admission and medication, many of these incidents also have a long-term psychological impact,” Dr Sulaiman said.

While research found the family dog was involved in almost half of cases, the most common breeds found to inflict injury requiring the specialist services of the Hospital were Pitbulls (10.3%), Labradors (8.5%), Rottweilers (6.8%), Bulldogs (6%) and Border Collies (6%).

With so many cases involving a dog known to the child, a large number of these injuries and the associated psychological trauma could be avoided with a comprehensive community education campaign;

We know families love their dogs, but it’s so important to be vigilant, particularly when you have young children. It’s not the nature of the dog, but the nature of the incident that is the issue, stepping on a tail, or getting too close or pulling ears,” said Dr Moradi.

When you're teaching children how to be safe around dogs, keep it simple. Teach them to be gentle and always supervise younger children with pets. You can help keep children safe by teaching safe behaviours;

  • Avoid unknown dogs and don’t touch without asking first.
  • Teach children to remain as calm as possible, yelling, running, hitting or making sudden movements toward the dog will escalate the situation.
  • Educate children at a level they can understand, focus on gentle behaviour and that dogs have likes and dislikes and help them develop understanding of dog behaviour as they grow older.
  • Never to tease dogs by taking their toys, food or treats, or by pretending to hit or kick.
  • Never pull a dog’s ears or tail, climb on or try to ride dogs.
  • Tell children to leave the dog alone when it’s asleep or eating.

 Drs Moradi and Sulaiman will present their research at the Royal Australian College of Surgeons' 2021 Annual Scientific Congress in Melbourne, 10-14 May.