A new report from State Farm Insurance shows an increase in dog-related claims, mostly dog bites, in 2020. Experts say these unusual times aren’t just affecting humans, but our pets are feeling the stress, too. Dog bites increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, most likely due to dogs picking up on additional household stress or adjusting to a new routine after their families started spending more time at home.
Add to that, new pet adoptions are up, more people are out and about taking walks, and families are taking care of pets for family and friends who are ill—and it all adds up to a national spike in dog bite cases.
Dog Bite Claims Statistics
Dogs are the most popular four-legged family members in the United States. In fact, 63 million families, about half of the country, have at least one dog in their family! The American Veterinary Medical Association says there are nearly 77 million dogs living in U.S. households.
While dogs can be fun, loyal pets and wonderful companions, they sometimes become stressed and agitated and can attack and bite. Each year there are more than 4.5 million dog bite victims in the U.S. Of those, 800,000 require medical attention and 1,000 require emergency care. Here are a few other dog bite statistics:
- Children are more likely to be bitten than adults. Because of their height and size, most injuries are to their head or neck.
- Pit bulls are the most likely dog breed to bite or attack, followed by mixed breeds, German shepherds, terriers, and rottweilers.
- Dog bites result in approximately 15 fatalities each year.
- Common dog bite injuries include puncture wounds, infections, scarring, nerve damage, and emotional distress.
- According to State Farm Insurance, Pennsylvania ranks fourth in states with the highest dog bite injury claims.
Signs a Dog Is Stressed
Unless a dog is sick, dogs do not bite unless they are provoked or feel threatened or stressed. Dogs cannot communicate with their humans in other ways, so a dog bite is a form of communication that lets the person know something is wrong.
Dogs that are stressed are more likely to snap or bite. Look for these signs to tell if a dog is stressed and more likely to act out by biting:
- Growling: This may seem obvious, but if a dog is growling, it is their vocal way of telling you they are stressed out. Small, short growls are a sign a dog may bite.
- Whining or barking: This is another vocal cue that a dog is stressed and can be a warning sign for an impending dog bite or attack.
- Freezing: If a dog stops quickly and ‘freezes’ in place, it could be stressed out. When a dog stiffens up, it may be viewed as submission to their owner, when in reality it is a signal that the dog is stressed and trying to calm itself down.
- Pacing: Pacing pups are having a hard time settling down because something is stressing them out.
- Avoidance: Typically, dogs like to be around others and their owner. Dogs who are stressed may exhibit avoidance behaviors like leaving the room, turning their head away, hiding behind a person or an object, or rolling onto their backs. It’s important to not force a dog to interact if they are showing signs of avoidance.
- Body language: Body language is important to pay attention to when it comes to dogs and their stress levels. For example, if a dog has a lowered tail or tail between the legs, lowered or sideway ears, or rapid panting—they may be agitated or stressed.
Safety Tips for Dog Owners
If you are a dog owner, there are several things you can do to prevent your furry friend from biting not only members of your family, but others, too. Dog attacks are preventable with training and proper safety measures. Being a responsible pet owner includes:
- Socialization: Introduce your dog to others at a young age so they get accustomed to family members and strangers. If you adopt an older dog, start very slowly with introductions since the dog may have a history of abuse of which you may not be aware. If your dog hasn’t been around others for quite some time due to the pandemic, slowly start reintroducing him to others.
- Leashing: In public places, it’s especially important to keep your dog on a leash to avoid an incident. Even though you love your dog, others may be scared or afraid. Dogs can sense this and are more likely to bite someone who is fearful.
- Supervision: Never leave your dog alone with children under the age of 10, especially infants. Most dog attack fatalities occur in small children. Teach your kids to treat your dog gently. Educate them on when a dog wants to be left alone versus when the dog is ready for attention or playtime.
Owner Liability After a Dog Bite
Dog owners have a legal obligation to prevent their dogs from injuring people or causing damages to property. In Pennsylvania, the dog confinement and housing law holds dog owners liable for damages if they fail to keep their dog contained in the house or yard, on a leash, or “under the reasonable control of some person.”
Pennsylvania is a “strict liability” dog bite state. This means a dog owner is responsible for any injuries the dog causes, even if the dog has never bitten before. Liability insurance may cover the medical costs associated with a dog bite. There are some exceptions to liability – for example, if someone was injured by a dog when they were trespassing.
Steps to Take for Dog Bite Victims
With more than 77 million dogs in the U.S., the chances of being bitten over the course of your lifetime are 1 in 70. If you are bitten by a dog, it’s important to stay calm and follow these steps:
- Seek medical attention. For a superficial wound, rinse it with clean water to remove any debris. Wash it with mild soap and bandage the wound. For puncture wounds, let the blood flow to cleanse the wound and then apply pressure to stop the bleeding. In all cases, you should seek medical attention especially if you were bitten by an unknown dog.
- Call animal control. If you are injured by an unknown dog, call animal control. Animal control will attempt to catch the dog to test it for rabies. If you cannot determine if the dog has rabies, you may need to start a rabies vaccination treatment plan.
- If possible, find out if the dog has been vaccinated. If you are bitten by a dog and the owner is present, ask whether the dog has been vaccinated. Ask for the contact information for the dog’s veterinarian.
- File a report. While it may be hard to do, filing a police report can help prevent other people from being bitten by the same dog. A police report also documents the incident in case you are filing a liability claim against the dog’s owner.
- Ask for the dog owner’s insurance information. Homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policies may cover any expenses you have after a dog bite. If the insurance company calls you, it’s important to not sign anything or discuss a settlement until you speak with an attorney.
- Call a lawyer. Dog bite injury medical costs can quickly reach tens of thousands of dollars. To be sure you are compensated fairly, seek legal advice from an experienced personal injury attorney.
Dog Bite Personal Injury Lawyers
Being bitten by a dog can be a traumatic experience. At Dale E. Anstine Personal Injury Law Firm, we are here to help. Navigating the legal system can be complicated and overwhelming – let our team take that stress away from you. Our team has helped dog bite victims get the compensation they deserve.
If you’ve suffered a dog bite or other dog-related injury, reach out today. Consultations are always free, and there is no fee unless we win for you!