Children more vulnerable to dog attacks

Photo for illustrative purposes. (Photo: Pixabay)

This year, ER24 responded to a total of 103 dog attacks.

A few weeks ago a six-month-old baby boy was killed after being bitten multiple times by a dog in Primrose in Germiston. A woman was also recently attacked by three dogs in Moreleta Park in Pretoria. Although a dog can attack anyone anywhere, children are more vulnerable to these attacks.

Read more: Bloody morning in Horison

Shannon McKay, chairperson of Animal Behaviour Consultants of South Africa explained why. “There are probably two reasons – size and knowledge. Children’s smaller size and their more active body movements could simultaneously cause a dog to be less concerned about potential retaliation, and their prey drive toward smaller animals could be triggered by a child’s erratic movements. Most children are also less skilled in interpreting canine body language and are thus less likely to diffuse or avoid an aggressive encounter.

For these reasons parents should not allow unsupervised interaction between dogs and children,” said Shannon.

She also said that it is not always possible to explain why dogs attack people. “It would be like trying to explain why people attack other people. There are a multitude of possible reasons – poor genetics, inappropriate environment, incorrect raising, inadvertent training, poor health, past experiences, etc. If all dogs were to be ethically bred, appropriately socialised and managed according to their individual nature, the instances of mauling would decrease substantially.”

Shannon offered suggestions to reduce the possibility of attacks. “The most important consideration is properly managing the dog. Being aware of signals that a dog is moving into an uncomfortable, anxious or aggressive mindset is crucial. Subtle signs can be tongue flicks, yawns, turning the head or body away or even walking away. More intense signals can include closing its mouth, its body stiffening, growling, staring or walking slowly toward the intended victim. These signs are often ignored or not noticed, and then an attack appears to come out of the blue, yet it had been brewing for a long time. If a dog owner has any concerns, they should consult an accredited canine behaviour consultant for immediate assistance. Furthermore, dog owners need to acquire, house and manage their dog appropriately. If a large-breed dog is acquired for the purposes of protection, the dog should be very strictly managed and controlled.”

We asked Doctor Robyn Holgate, Chief Medical Officer at ER24, if one should always consult a medical practitioner after being bitten by a dog, and what the treatment usually involves. Her advice: “If the dog is unfamiliar, and you are unable to manage the injury with basic first aid at home, it’s best to see a doctor.

“Clinically, we would triage the severity of the injury. Some victims need to be resuscitated first. Treatment may involve direct pressure to stop the bleeding and attention to the airways and breathing. The decision on whether to suture a wound or not is best left to your doctor, as some wounds with a high risk of infection may be left open to heal by secondary intention (it will eventually close naturally). Wounds to the face should only be sutured by a specialist after extensive cleaning and irrigation. Most patients with minor bite wounds can be treated as outpatients. The key to preventing infection and promoting wound healing is cleaning and disinfecting. Routine antibiotic prophylaxis is not recommended for all bite wounds. Tetanus prophylaxis should be considered if the victim has not been vaccinated in the past five years. The decision to start rabies prophylaxis is based on whether there are any current rabies outbreaks and what is known about the incident and the dog. We use a wound classification to decide whether immunoglobulin and/ or the vaccine should be administered,” said Robyn.

Also Read: Graphic: Toddler recovering after vicious dog attack

ER24 is urging pet owners to take good care of their dogs by ensuring they are well socialised and trained from a young age, and kept securely on their property. Also remember to make sure that your animals are taken care of while you are on holiday this festive season, whether by a pet sitter or at a kennel. Ensure your animals have sufficient shelter, water and food during this time, and especially during the hot summer months. We also urge people not to approach unfamiliar dogs and to report stray dogs to the relevant authorities. Children should also be educated in how to behave around dogs and to take care of their dogs.

Did you have a bad experience involving a dog and your children? If so, send your number to [email protected]

Do you perhaps have more information pertaining to this story? Email us at [email protected] (remember to include your contact details) or phone us on 011 955 1130.

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  AUTHOR
Riaan van Zyl
Journalist

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