Dr. Mom: Be cautious when kids are around dogs

05/24/2012 12:00 AM

06/03/2012 6:39 PM

It's National Dog Bite Prevention Week – a great time to remind young children about dog safety.

We don't have a family dog yet, but my kids absolutely love dogs and have been begging for one for quite some time. When we're at the park, school or just out for a walk, they can't help but be drawn to any and all dogs.

I'm always very cautious.

Them?

Not so much.

They immediately ask if they can pet any dog they see. I remind them to keep their distance until they ask the owner. We usually know when an owner and dog want to be left alone and when they welcome attention.

Knowing that 4.5 million people get bitten every year by dogs and that half the victims are children, we must give our children some ground rules when it comes to interacting with dogs – whether that dog is a pet or one at the park.

Every year, 885,000 people seek medical attention as a result of a dog bite or attack, and statistically, children ages 5-9 are most at risk. Dr. Peter Antevy, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in south Florida, said he sees at least five dog-bite victims a month in his emergency room. Unfortunately, he said, "the biggest offender is the pit bull."

The reality is that any dog can bite, and statistically speaking, a child is most likely to be bitten by the family dog or a dog that they know. When you're talking about bite severity resulting in life-threatening and even fatal injuries, pit bulls and Rottweilers are the main culprits.

Experience absolutely colors our perception, and in this case I can't help but be affected by what I've seen. I will never forget a young child I treated in the ER during my pediatric residency. She suffered severe facial lacerations and tears to her face after a pit bull attack in her local park.

She had even asked the owner if it was OK to pet the dog.

So you can bet I'm extremely cautious if I happen to encounter one of these dogs at the park with my own kids. In all honesty, we would leave. It's a chance I'm not OK taking.

Just like anything, though, prevention is key, and any dog bite can turn serious if not cleaned and treated appropriately.

So, teach your children these dog-safety rules:

Always make sure they ask permission (from you and the dog owner) before petting a dog.

Never approach a stray dog.

Never bother a dog that is eating, sleeping or caring for puppies.

Never tease, hit, startle or back a dog into a corner.

Allow a dog time to sniff and inspect before attempting to pet it.

If an unfamiliar dog approaches you and knocks you over, roll into a ball and stay still while covering your face and neck.

If your child is bitten, clean the area immediately with soap and water. Dog bites are prone to infection, so have them checked out by a doctor. Some children may require a brief course of antibiotics if the skin is broken. And, depending on immunization status, your child may need a tetanus booster shot. If the dog is a stray and/or his vaccination status is unknown, your child may need to be given a rabies vaccine as a precautionary measure.

Someday, I hope our children get their wish and we add one more – of the canine variety – to our family. Until then, I will continue to impress upon them the importance of dog safety whether we're at the park or cuddling up to our future pup.

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