Serious dog bites have become a far bigger problem in California during the past decade, sending tens of thousands of people to hospitals every year, according to a Sacramento Bee review of new state data.
About 39,000 people went to emergency rooms seeking treatment for dog bites in 2015, up by 12,000, or 44 percent, from 2006, according to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. That comes out to 101 ER visits per 100,000 Californians, a 35 percent rate increase from 2006. About 1,400 of those visits required hospitalization, up by 600, or 75 percent, from 2006.
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The trend is even more pronounced in Sacramento County, where ER visits and hospitalization rates for dog bites more than doubled between 2006 and 2014. (County-level data for 2015 is unavailable.)
The trend is likely due to a corresponding jump in Californians who use their dogs as protection, instead of merely as pets, said Richard Polsky, a Los Angeles-based canine behavior specialist who has testified in about 50 civil and criminal trials.
"People are getting these larger breeds," he said. "When these dogs bite, they are going to cause more damage than a cocker spaniel.".
That trend becomes evident when looking at where harmful dog bites occur at the greatest rate, Polsky said. Rural areas such as Lake County are far more likely to have a high proportion of dogs outside for protection, behind a fence marked "Beware of Dog," than urban counties like Santa Clara, where smaller, indoor breeds (and electronic home security systems) are the norm.
Children and the elderly are the most likely group to be hospitalized following a dog bite injury. Children are also more likely to visit the ER following a dog bite than other age groups. And one-fourth of the 38 Californians killed by dogs between 2005 and 2013 were younger than 10, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Sources: Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, California Department of Public Health
Notes: Figures represent county of residence of injured person. Statewide data "double counts" a small number of injuries that resulted in two or more ER visits or hospitalizations.