Hospital admissions for dog bites soar by 50%

New study finds over 1,200 children were hospitalised in Ireland over a decade.

By Patricia Devlin

HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS FOR dog bites soared by more than 50% in a decade, a new study has found.

Of the 3,158 patients receiving treatment between 2012 and 2021, over 1,200 were children bitten by dogs.

The research, carried out by the Department of Agriculture, University of Limerick and National Health Intelligence Unit, found that over 80% of those requiring hospital treatment were emergency admissions.

  • In an investigation out this weekend, Noteworthy asks why authorities are failing to tackle violent dog attacks. Find out more here>>

Just over 400 were elective admissions and 42 related to dog bites on patients classed as “maternity and newborn” admissions.

Three-quarters of cases involved injuries classed as open wounds, while 7.3% were fractures. Some 751 patients – a total of 24 percent – suffered a wound to their face.

The findings, published in the December edition of the Irish Medical Journal, emphasise the importance of improving dog control legislation and enforcement and of developing effective policies to reduce risk and protect the public, authors of the study said.

Case for change on dog control policy

Last month, Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys announced measures aimed at tightening dog control laws following a spate of dog attacks.

These include the doubling of on-the-spot fines and giving dog wardens more power to issue multiple fines at once if they encounter an owner who potentially breaches a number of regulations in the Control of Dogs Act 1986.

“This study provide an evidence base for these policy discussions,” the report, released on Thursday, stated.

“They also provide a baseline against which any changes in the incidence of dog bites requiring hospitalisation in future years can be measured, which could be one of the indices by which the effectiveness of new policy interventions could be evaluated.”

With the highest rates of such injuries reported among children aged up to 14, policy interventions should specifically address this risk, the authors said. 

42% of patients required plastic surgery

Counties Louth, Kerry and Roscommon recorded the highest numbers of dog-bites over the period. While Kilkenny, Offaly and Dublin had the lowest.

The true number of dog bites is “undoubtedly” greater than can be estimated from hospital discharge records, the report added.

The ages of those hospitalised for dog bites increased over the decade, from 29.1 years to 35.2 years, with men and women were equally affected.

More than half of the patients – 56% – required a procedure under general anaesthetic, a figure which the study said “appears high”.

Plastic surgery was carried out in 42% of patients admitted to Irish hospitals.

Sepsis, a serious life-threatening emergency, was diagnosed in 14 individual patients and fewer than five died.

The study added that the issued of dog bites is a “global health issue”, but noted that Ireland had “limited information” on the attacks “due to the lack of a comprehensive reporting system”. 

Investigation out this weekend

Why are authorities failing to tackle violent dog attacks? 

This weekend, investigative journalist Patricia Devlin of Noteworthy asks why there continues to be little to no action taken against pet owners.

Noteworthy is the crowdfunded investigative journalism platform of The Journal. 

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