Children may be most vulnerable to dog bites when they're left alone, a new study finds, and the guilty party may most often be the family dog.
Researchers from the University of Colorado, Denver looked at data on 537 children up to age 18 who were treated at Children's Hospital in Denver for dog bites to the face from 2003 to 2008. Children 5 and under were the most frequent victims of dog bites, accounting for 68% of cases. The children knew almost all of the dogs that attacked them: About half were family pets, about 15% belonged to a neighbor, about 13% to a friend, and about 10% to a relative. The most common breeds involved in the attacks were mixed breeds, followed by Labrador retrievers, Rottweilers and German shepherds. (Pit bulls are banned in Denver.)
According to the study's authors, "Familiar dogs may be allowed more time with children and with less supervision, key circumstances that may precipitate attacks."
In a little more than half the cases (53.2%) the attacks were provoked, either by petting or playing with the dog too forcefully, surprising the animal, or falling or stepping on it, the study found.
Although no children died as a result of the attacks, injuries included fractures around the eye, torn eyelids and damage to the eyeball.
"People tend to think the family dog is harmless, but it's not," Dr. Vikram Durairaj, co-author of the study, said in a news release. Durairaj, an associate professor of ophthalmology and otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, added: "What is clear from our data is that virtually any breed of dog can bite. The tendency of a dog to bite is related to heredity, early experience, later socialization and training, health and victim behavior."
The study was presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Chicago.