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Don't Leave Kids, Dogs Alone, Study Warns

Experts offer new guide for pet owners and wary passers-by

FRIDAY, Feb. 23, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- They may be man's best friend, but 800,000 times each year in the United States, dogs bite someone, resulting in more than 380,000 trips to the emergency room, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Youngsters, especially, are at risk from dog bites, British experts say.

"Young children should not be left alone with dogs," warns Dr. Marina Morgan, a consultant medical microbiologist at the Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust and lead author of a new guide on dog bites published in the Feb. 24 British Medical Journal.

The guide is aimed primarily at doctors who treat the bites, but it also advises lay readers on how to prevent bites and manage them should they occur.

Adam Goldfarb, an issues specialist with the Humane Society of the United States, said that, "To reduce the risk of dog bites, dog owners should make sure the dog is well cared for and spayed or neutered," he said. "The CDC says that over 80 percent of dogs involved in bites are intact males."

Be wary of dogs that are chained outdoors, Goldfarb added. "They are three times more likely to bite than other dogs," he said, presumably because of their isolation.

Rather than simply never leaving children alone with dogs, "parents should supervise the interaction between a child and a dog," he said. Still, he acknowledged, "the most serious attacks occur when parents leave them alone."

The owner of a dog who bites someone should consult an expert, Goldfarb said. "It is worthwhile talking to someone from an animal center who can evaluate your dog," he said.

And should you get bitten, "if you think you need medical help, you probably do," Goldfarb said. A visit to the emergency room or your doctor is advised, especially "if it is a stray dog or if you don't know who the owner is," he said.

Morgan's advice to doctors who treat serious dog bites includes a careful choice of an antibiotic.

"I see many nasty dog bites where physicians are not using the proper antibiotic," she said. Many bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics such as penicillin or erythromycin, Morgan noted. She recommends co-amoxiclav (Augmentin), which combines amoxicillin with a compound called clavulanic acid.

Other common mistakes by physicians include "not suturing the wound early enough and not cleaning wounds properly," Morgan said.

The U.K. expert supports the notion that all prospective dog owners should first take some form of mandatory training in the responsibilities of dog ownership.

Cats, too, can pose real hazards, Morgan said. Cat bites, while rarer than those from dogs, can be more serious. "About 60 percent of cat bites are infected," she said. "I had four patients with cat bites in the hospital the same week last year."

More information

There's more on preventing dog bites at the Humane Society of the United States.

SOURCES: Marina Morgan, M.D., consultant medical microbiologist, Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust, Exeter, England; Adam Goldfarb, issues specialist, Humane Society of the United States, Gaithersburg, Md; Feb. 24, 2007, British Medical Journal
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