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How dangerous is your pet dog?


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More Australians have been hospitalised due to dog bite injuries than you may expect.

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is once again opening the discussion and reminding Australians that dogs are potentially very dangerous animals. In the 2013-2014 period alone almost 4,000 Australians were put in hospital following dog-related injuries and more than 90% of these were for dog bites. Children under the age of 10 are by far the most at risk, accounting for more cases than any other age group.

Compared to other hazards, dog bites are more dangerous than one might think and they are more commonly the cause of hospitalisation than many other everyday risks.

In the 2013-2014 period:

  • Dog injury hospitalisations: 3,972 cases
  • Poisoning hospitalisations: 1,884 cases
  • Drowning hospitalisations: 672 cases

While wrist and hand injuries were relatively common (as one would expect with unwary kids misreading a dog's behaviour) they were still dwarfed by the number of bite injuries to the head. In fact, only 67 kids under 10 were hospitalised for dog bites to the hand and wrist, but almost 500 children ended up in hospital following a dog bite to the head and face.

The severity of a dog bite is not to be underestimated either, with many of those bitten also sustaining bone fractures in addition to open wounds. Infections, in particular, are a serious hazard, with almost 9 out of 10 open-wound dog bites becoming infected. Other than bite wounds, being struck by a dog can also result in hospitalisation for people of all age groups and particularly for the elderly. However, even for those aged 65 and above, bites still accounted for about 75% of hospitalisations.

Where recorded, the vast majority of these injuries occurred in people's homes, with no other environment even coming close in occurrences. This is disconcerting news for those who have both dogs and children, suggesting that even after many uneventful years a dog can still behave in an unexpected way. It just goes to show that behavioural training and socialisation is an ongoing process for pet owners and should be considered an ongoing expense, especially in households with children.

Pet insurance, too, is consistently underestimated. In 2013, more than half of Australian households had a pet but less than 5% had pet insurance, even though some policies can also cover obedience training and other behavioural courses. It can be hard to pick out a policy, but the numbers show that it might be worth looking for one to help defray the costs of dog training, which is not just a one-time expense.

It's well known that older people are more likely to end up in hospital, but it's worth remembering that the same rule often applies to children. It's no surprise that a lot of health insurers are now offering cheap and basic private hospital cover that is mostly focused on covering accidents only. For a family on a budget, this is a useful way to receive cover and access government health insurance rebates.

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