Dog bites more likely in cities

City dwellers are nearly twice as likely to be bitten by a dog than people living in the country, and most of those bites involve an unleashed dog, according to researchers with U of G’s Ontario Veterinary College who surveyed more than 2,000 people for information to help prevent dog bites.

Dogs are more common in rural households, but the percentage of dog bites in the country was only about half that in cities.

Population medicine professor Jan Sargeant and PhD student Danielle Julien found 77 per cent of bites involved unleashed dogs. Seventeen per cent of bites were from dogs that were not vaccinated against rabies.

Learning that dog bites are more common in urban versus rural settings is important because it spurs further inquiries into the causes, says Sargeant.

“When you know these things, you can target messages more specifically. The more specifically you can target to people’s individual situation, the more likely it is to resonate with them and the more likely you are to effect some change.”

The researchers set out to determine the differences between urban and rural communities in numbers of dogs, dog ownership dynamics and human exposure to dog bites, says Julien.

“All are important considerations in the planning and implementation of public health strategies related to zoonotic disease awareness, prevention and control, and for the promotion of responsible dog ownership,” she says.

Human exposure to dog bites is an important and often serious public health issue, Julien adds.

“Some of the more important concerns surrounding the issue of dog bites include the repercussions of physical and emotional trauma experienced by bite victims, and the potential risk of transmission of rabies.”

The main transmitters of canine rabies to humans are domestic dogs.

“In Ontario, dogs three months of age or older are legally required to be vaccinated against rabies,” says Sargeant. “These findings will not only help shape public health measures related to preventing dog bites but also bring awareness to the need for the rabies vaccine.”