Understanding and Preventing Child Bites

Written By Dr. Gary Holfinger

Sadly, we often have to examine a pet who has bitten a child. To physicians, child bites are much like gunshot wounds: they are required to be reported to the County Health Department. Bite wounds should be examined and treated by a human doctor; pet mouth’s are full of infective bacteria, and a puncture wound can lead to severe damage.

The Health Department will require an examination by a veterinarian within a certain amount of days after a bite has occurred. By law, we must determine that the animal is showing no signs of rabies; this means that we must examine the animal.

Bites generally occur because the pet is misinterpreting the child’s action. This can start in many ways: If a pet is territorial and food defensive, an active child wanting to play may suffer a bite. Another possibility is that a protective pet doesn’t understand that games like tag are playing and they want to protect “their” child. They assume their family member is being attacked, and will come to the rescue by biting the playmate. Some dogs are just plain aggressive, or kept for protection – it’s hard for these dogs to differentiate between good and bad visitors.

As good pet owners, it’s our responsibility to recognize dangerous situations and misinterpretations by our pets. Neutering, preferably at 6-8 months old, can help reduce the chance of territorial dominance and aggression. If you think your pet is a potential problem, please talk to a pet behaviorist or trainer to prevent future risk.