Human behaviors may increase dog bite risk, study finds

Anxiety, irritability, depression may increase the risk of being bitten, new research suggests

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In an observational survey study of almost 700 individuals in the U.K., those who experience greater levels of anxiety, irritability, and depression may be at greater risk of being bitten by either a strange dog or one in the home.

The findings were published online this month in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Previous research has shown that most bites come from dogs that are familiar; 55 percent of the bites in this study came from unfamiliar dogs.

According to lead author Carri Westgarth, Ph.D., Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at the University of Liverpool, Cheshire, U.K., although the latter finding was surprising, the real significance lies in the personality finding.

“This has never been reported before, and I wasn’t even really looking for that,” said Westgarth. “But to me, how we behave regarding our health is likely to be influenced by our personality.”

More research is needed to see whether the results can be replicated using “a more detailed measure of personality,” she added.

Annually, about 9,500 U.S. citizens are hospitalized due to dog bite injuries, according to “Emergency Department Visits and Inpatient Stays Involvind Dog Bites,” Laurel Holmquist, M.A. and Anne Elixhauser, Ph.D., at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Rockville, Md.

But statistics concerning actual dog bites require clarification, wrote the researchers. “Further, prevalence studies based on hospital admission records do not include likely less serious dog bites which do not require medical treatment or are treated elsewhere, including accident and emergency,” the study claimed.

Westgarth said she has always been fascinated by the relationship people have with their pets and how living with them might impact human health, such as with dog bites.

“But surprisingly, there’s little robust scientific research being done around dog bites, particularly around risk factors,” she said.

The investigators also wanted to better determine the number of dog bites received, as previous research has relied on hospital records, “and that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. We wanted to look at all of that in the community.”

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