Fatal dog attacks skyrocket since pandemic, bites on children up 25%: studies

One paper published in the Journal of Surgical Research in August of 2022 found a 25 percent increase from 2019 to 2020 in pediatric dog bites.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

New studies have revealed that a rise in emergency room visits has occurred since the beginning of the pandemic for dog bite injuries.

One study published in the Journal of Craniofacial Surgery last summer found that dog bite injuries had nearly tripled as the share of pediatric emergency room visits over a span of several months in 2020, up to around 8 cases for every 1,000 patients. 

The increase in bites is "likely to be associated with stay-at-home orders, bringing dogs and children together for longer periods of time and perhaps in closer quarters,” the researchers wrote. 

"It is alarming to note that the spike of incidence of dog bites has peaked, yet persisted, even as states continue to slowly relax social restrictions."

Another paper published in the Journal of Surgical Research in August of 2022 found a 25 percent increase from 2019 to 2020 in pediatric dog bites, according to The Hill.

Both studies had a focus on children, who tend to suffer more serious injuries in dog attacks because of their size in relation to the animals.

"Some of the injuries we saw were horrific," said chief of plastic surgery at Nemours Children’s Health E.J. Caterson, co-author of the second study. "These are preventable injuries, in most cases."

DogsBite.org, a public education website, found 81 fatal dog attacks in 2021, the most recorded in any year by the CDC.

The founder of the group, Colleen Lynn, said that many of these dog attack fatalities are women in households with three or more dogs.

"The risk of injury really increases, the more dogs in a household," she said.

Some theories as to the increase in bites point to the pandemic, where the US saw a 3 percent increase in pet ownership, from 67 percent in 2019 to 70 percent in 2021, and disruption to the daily routines of dogs.

"Dogs that have less stable personalities, that are less resilient, thrive in more predictable environments," Pamela Reid, vice president of the behavioral sciences team at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said. If a dog’s schedule "changed during the pandemic, and then changed back to what it was before, that could be disruptive."

Other theories suggest that online marketing has spurred unethical breeders that sell improperly socialized dogs, and social media videos raking in millions of views of "staring contests" with dogs or videos of the pets "smiling."

"That’s a stress smile," animal behaviorist at Best Friends Animal Society Carley Faughn said, adding that a stress smile shows unease and could lead to a bite.

Other research shows that dogs may be biting more because of the heat, with new research from Harvard Medical School and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital showing that the dogs were more likely to bite on hot days, which the current summer has seen many of.

"There are lab studies indicating that rats are more aggressive when exposed to heat stress, so I think it is shared across species," said Clas Linnman, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and study co-author.

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