New data has revealed an increase in the number of children under the age of 15 having to attend hospital for dog-related injuries between April 2021 and March 2022.
This period was also the second worst year since records began in 2007/08 for hospitalisations of all age groups, where the cause of injury was listed as ‘bitten or struck by a dog’.
NHS statistics shows that between April 2021 and March 2022, 1,516 children were recorded as having to be cared for in hospitals, compared to 1,410 the previous year – a 7.5% year-on-year increase. There have been a number of recent, high-profile incidents, including that of Daniel John Twigg – a three-year-old who was killed by a Cane Corso in Rochdale earlier this month.
Dr Samantha Gaines, head of the companion animals department at the RSPCA, advised parents that their children often struggle to recognise the dangers of interacting with dogs.
“Many families share their homes with dogs and, in the vast majority of cases, live harmoniously together. However, children often treat dogs like their friends, using a lot of physical contact to express their affection, which dogs generally find threatening.
“Although many dogs can clearly express how they are feeling through their body language, children can struggle to recognise and understand what the signs mean and how their behaviour should change accordingly.”
Dr Gaines said that breeds cannot simply be labelled as ‘dangerous’ or ‘safe’, and that people are much more likely to be bitten by their own dog.
“Contrary to popular belief, all dogs have the potential to bite – it is wrong to label some dogs as dangerous and others as safe. In general, dogs will use their bodies to communicate when they are feeling uncomfortable, worried and in need of some space – so it is imperative that parents actively supervise their children when around dogs.
“This is especially important as the likelihood of getting bitten by your own dog is greater than one which is unknown. As parents or carers, it is also our role to teach children how to behave and interact safely with dogs – whether it’s our own family pet or other dogs in public places, private homes and gardens.”
She added that there are a number of behaviours that owners can look out for, which may indicate that a dog is about to bite.
“There are important signs that owners can look out for which may signal that their dog has become stressed or agitated. These include when a dog has their tail tucked under, their ears are back and they are yawning, or lying down and avoiding eye contact as well as lip licking. If they are expressing a stiffened body posture, ears up and pupils dark and enlarged, or cowering with their ears flat and their teeth showing – these are all signs that your dog could be unhappy and stressed.”
The news follows a boom in dog ownership during the pandemic, with 12 million dogs now living in the UK according to estimates by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association - a rise of 3.1 million on 2019.
Jack Lis, 10, was mauled to death by a American bully dog at the home of a friend in Pentwyn, Penyrheol, in 2021.
Baby Elon Jase Ellis-Joynes died after being mauled by his dads Chow Chow in Doncaster September 2020 and Frankie Macritchie was killed by a American bulldog cross Staffordshire bull terrier while alone in a caravan in April 2019.
The RSPCA has have developed six rules to help keep your dog happy and children safe:
Stay with your children around dogs – never leave them unattended
Interact with your dog at the right times – avoid trying to interact with them when they’re eating, sleeping, are feeling unwell, or have a toy they really like
Be gentle – it’s important to teach children to be gentle, kind and polite to dogs and do not allow them to pull on their ears, tail etc
Play nicely and help your children learn how to teach a dog some new tricks such as shaking a paw or rolling over
Give your dog space if they need it – supervise your child with your dog and if they look unhappy, make sure there is a safe space they can go to have some time alone
Don’t let children approach dogs they don’t know, such as when out at the park.
As well as an increase in dog attack hospitalisations involving children, admissions also reached record highs across several adult age groups.
It was a record year for admissions involving those aged 35 to 39 (497 incidences - a 15.6% year-on-year rise), 40 to 44 (547 cases - an increase of 17.4%) and 55 to 59 (704 FCEs - 15.2% up).
But the biggest annual increase was seen amongst those aged between 75 and 79-years-old, with a record 385 elderly people requiring medical care - an increase of 68.1% compared to 2020/21.
Dr Gaines said it is crucial for potential owners to ensure that they buy or adopt their dog from reputable kennels or rescues, to help make sure that it is the right fit for their family and home.
“The RSPCA believes that the current legal framework for dealing with dog bite incidents is too complex, outdated and based on the wrong premise of a breed-specific approach. Since the Dangerous Dogs Act was passed, knowledge and understanding of dog behaviour, and in particular dog aggression, has increased significantly.
“We want new legislation, providing an evidence-based and proportionate approach that is proactive and preventative. In addition to this, education plays an integral part in tackling dog bites, and people who come into contact with any and all dogs need to know how to stay safe and how to behave appropriately.
“When getting a dog it is vital that the person selling the dog or rehoming the dog is reputable and operating in a way which safeguards welfare. This will help ensure that the dog you choose to bring into your family is a good match for your circumstances and lifestyle, and that you can provide everything they need to live a happy and healthy life. More information on helping people get a dog safely can be found here.”
It is currently illegal to own a Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and a Fila Brasileiro in the UK.