Health Team

Parents, pet owners need to prepare for interactions between children, dogs

Posted August 8

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— Dogs are often times a much loved and trusted part of families, but some dogs have a history of aggressive behavior, which can be especially concerning when young children are involved.

Pediatric surgeons at UNC Hospitals say they are seeing an increase in the number of life-threatening encounters between dogs and kids.

Last November, the Wells family, from Statesville, was one of them.

The family was visiting friends in Raleigh when Ryder, a toddler just shy of his second birthday, went into the backyard of a home where two Rottweiler dogs were being kept.

Moments later, Brittany Wells looked outside and saw that her son was in trouble.

"I saw him lying, and it was, 'Oh my God, he's in trouble,'" Brittany Wells said. "This happened within minutes."

The dogs attacked Ryder, breaking his arm and doing severe damage to his left eye, nose and jaw.

Ryder was one of nine children treated for severe dog bite injuries last year at UNC Hospitals. That was almost twice as many cases as the hospital saw in 2014.

Of pediatric dog bite patients 10 years and younger, about 68 percent treated from 2010 to 2015 were under five years old.

UNC says it's cases are still trending up so far in 2016, including one attack that resulted in a death.

"We're not talking about nips to the arm or the face," UNC pediatric surgeon Kimberly Erickson said.

Erickson said dog attacks often cause severe tissue injury because dogs drag children, throwing them back and forth in movements that cause major tears and puncture wounds.

Dr. Barbara Sherman, with the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, counsels families on how to manage their pets around children. She says owners must know if their dog has a history of aggression.

"The closer the toddler gets, especially that eye-to-eye contact, dogs find that very threatening," Sherman said.

Sherman says dogs with a history of aggression should be "carefully managed and separated from any interactions with children."

Parents should also work to teach children about the risks of interacting with dogs without creating a phobia of them. Other tips include managing the entry ways to the home, places which are the highest risk areas for dogs and kids to interact.

And children should never approach a dog they don't know, even if it's on a leash.

Sherman says aggression isn't limited to a specific breed of dog.

"I think it's really best to consider that any dog can bite and that we need to apply general rules of safety for children, regardless of the breed," she said.

Ryder is healing from his injuries, but he will still need several surgeries to repair his jaw and face. For now, he's using sign language to communicate.

UNC surgeons say they hope his story can help prevent others like it.

"We would love it if we never saw another horrendous dog bite here again," Erickson said. "That would be our ultimate goal."


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