Dogs make great pets, and can give children enjoyment, comfort, support and confidence. Pet ownership is also beneficial for children in developing responsibility, and studies have shown families with pets spend more time interacting.
While owning a dog can be a delightful experience, parents need to be aware of the risk of injury from dog bites. Around 13,000 people each year attend Australian emergency departments for dog bite injuries, with children under the age of five being most at risk.
Young children are often bitten on the head, face and neck because of their height in relation to the dog’s face.
Dog bites can lead to infection, permanent scarring and disfigurement. Bitten children may also show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Dog bite injuries can also be fatal.
To minimise the risk of dog bites, you should:
- Always supervise children around dogs, even if you know the dog well
- Discourage rough play with the dog, or around the dog
- Teach children not to disturb a dog while they are sleeping or eating
Even if you don’t own a dog, it’s important to teach your child how to behave around dogs:
- Teach children not to approach unfamiliar dogs.
- If a dog approaches your child, teach your child to stand still, with their arms by their sides and their hands in fists.
If your child is bitten by a dog, the most important thing is to stop the bleeding. Call an ambulance (000 in Australia) if the wound is deep and bleeding heavily.
- Take your child to a safe space, away from the dog.
- Wash your hands with soap and water.
- Use a clean, dry cloth to apply pressure directly to the wound. A tea-towel is ideal if at home, or if out and about use a scarf or item of clothing instead.
- If the wound is on an arm or leg, elevate the limb above the level of the heart while applying pressure; this will help to slow the flow of blood.
- Apply the pressure for five minutes.
- Take your child to a GP for review. If you can’t stop the bleeding, head to your nearest emergency department.
For more information on pet safety and the benefits and responsibilities of dog ownership, visit our Dog and Kids webpage.
For more information on treating dog bites, read our Kids Health Info fact sheet on cuts, grazes, lacerations.