Dog attack risk factors


How to help your pet avoid and survive a dog attack.

Dog looking through a wire fence

The University of Adelaide has conducted an Australia-first study into the risks of dogs and cats being attacked by a dog.

The study revealed how commonly dog-on-dog and dog-on-cat attacks occurred and how pet owners could reduce their risk of being involved.

Lead author Dr Christine Heyward said while dog attacks accounted for just 2.5% of veterinary emergencies, they could have lasting impacts on both pets and owners.

“As an emergency veterinarian, I see directly the emotional and financial cost when a pet is attacked by a dog,” Dr Heyward said.

“There have been many studies around dog bites on humans but this is one of the first studies to report the numbers of cases and investigate risk factors relating to being attacked by a dog.”

Almost 92% of dogs that presented with bite injuries survived the attack and was later discharged with given a clean bill of health, however the survival rate for cats was only 46%.

University of Adelaide School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences Senior Lecturer Dr Susan Hazel said cats tended to present with more severe injuries than dogs.

“This is likely due to the smaller size of cats,” Dr Hazel said.

The average cost of emergency veterinary treatment for dog attack victims was about $380 but longer hospital stays were likely to cost their owners thousands of dollars. The study found one serious case where the bill ran to more than $13,000.

Dr Heywood said, while neutered dogs were more likely to be victims of dog attacks, they had a much higher survival rate than non-neutered dogs.

“It’s possible that non-neutered dogs sustained fewer injuries in fights – or were involved in less fights,” she said.

“Neutered dogs had a 76% survival rate when presenting versus only 39% for non-neutered dogs, so they were more likely to present but may have had less severe injuries.”

Pure-bred dogs and those aged between two to seven were less likely to be involved in a dog attack.

Where an animal lived also made a difference. Dogs in high socio-economic areas were more likely to be attacked by an unknown dog, while pets in low socio-economic areas were more likely to be attacked at home.

The Victoria Department of Agriculture estimates 80% of dog attacks would be prevented by properly confining dogs to their property, as a large number of attacks involved a dog escaped from an unsecured yard.

Dr Hazel said owners should exercise ‘due care and responsibility’ if a dog is showing aggressive behaviour by keeping them on a leash when outside the home or in a securely fenced yard.

“If your animal is attacked by a dog, that attack should be reported as soon as possible to your local council, which will then investigate,” she said.

"Through research into dog attacks it is hoped we can design programs to reduce the risk of dog bites – this will be a win-win for both animal and human welfare.”

What to do if your pet is attacked by a dog

  • Don’t try to break up the dog fight with your bare hands.
  • Tip water from a water bottle or spray their bodies with a hose to shock the dogs into breaking apart.
  • Keep calm and swap details with the other pet owner.
  • Have your animal seen by a vet immediately as it can be difficult to judge the severity of a wound externally.
  • If you have been bitten, visit the hospital immediately as dog bites can contain harmful bacteria.

Source: Animal Emergency Services

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The information in this article has been prepared for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or specific advice to any particular person. Any advice contained in the document is general advice, not intended as legal advice or professional advice and does not take into account any person’s particular circumstances. Before acting on anything based on this advice you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives and needs.