National Dog Bite Prevention Week: DHEC Reminds Pet Owners and the Public of Tips for Reducing Dog Bite Injuries and Potential Rabies Exposures
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 11, 2022
COLUMBIA, S.C. ― During National Dog Bite Prevention Week (April 10-16, 2022) the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) celebrates the meaningful bonds between dogs and their owners while also reminding everyone that both pet owners and the public have roles to play in preventing dog bite injuries and potential rabies exposures.
National Dog Bite Prevention Week is recognized annually to spread awareness about how often dog bites occur and how they can be prevented. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, of the estimated 4.5 million people bitten by dogs each year, the most common dog bite victims are children.
In addition to serious bodily injury, dog bites also can lead to potential rabies exposure. In 2021, three of the 101 reported rabies positive cases in South Carolina were dogs that exposed multiple people and other pets to the rabies virus.
“Dogs play many roles in our lives and can be great companions. They can be trained for search and rescue, to guide the blind, and to help in an array of other supportive services. But, like all animals with teeth, they also can bite,” said Terri McCollister, Rabies Program Team Leader. “National Dog Bite Prevention Week is a good time to remind pet owners why it’s so important to keep pets current on their rabies vaccinations.”
The National Dog Bite Prevention Coalition recommends the following tips:
- Make sure your pet is healthy. Not all illnesses and injuries are obvious, and dogs are more likely to bite if they are sick or in pain. If you haven't been to the veterinarian in a while, schedule an appointment for a checkup to discuss your dog's physical and behavioral health.
- Take it slow. If your dog has only been interacting with your family this past year, don't rush out into crowded areas or dog parks. Try to expose your dog to new situations slowly and for short periods of time, arrange for low-stress interactions, and give plenty of praise and rewards for good behavior.
- Educate yourself in positive training techniques and devote time to interact with your dog. Dog bite prevention training is part of being a responsible dog owner.
- Get outside for leash training and allow your dog to do more socializing. Gradually start arranging play dates with other dogs and people, and carefully increase the amounts of time and freedom. This will help your dog get used to being with other canine companions.
- Be cautious about approaching other people's pets. Ask permission from the owner before approaching a dog, and look for signs that the dog wants to interact with you. Sometimes dogs want to be left alone, and we need to recognize and respect that.
It’s important that all dog bites – and all animal bites and exposures – are quickly reported to DHEC and your medical provider, in case there is a risk for rabies. An exposure is defined as direct contact (such as through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth) with saliva or brain or nervous system tissue from an infected animal.
If a family dog bites, scratches or wounds someone, the pet owner should:
- Confine the dog immediately.
- Call their veterinarian to confirm their dog's vaccination records, and tell the veterinarian that the dog has bitten someone.
- Contact their local DHEC Environmental Affairs Office.
- When DHEC staff follow up with the investigation, they’ll explain safety procedures as outlined in the South Carolina Rabies Control Act. If the dog needs to be safely quarantined for a period of time to determine whether it has the rabies virus, the quarantine most commonly occurs at the pet owner’s home.
“Keeping your pets up to date on their rabies vaccination is the easiest way to protect you and your family, including your pets, from the rabies virus, which can be deadly,” McCollister said. “Any mammal has the ability to carry and transmit the disease to people or pets. Keeping pets current on their rabies vaccinations is state law and part of the responsibility of being a pet owner.”
Learn more about dog bite prevention from the American Veterinary Medical Association. Children can watch the association’s “Jimmy’s Dog House” videos for simple lessons about interacting with pet dogs. Learn more about DHEC’s role with rabies prevention and find additional tips and resources at scdhec.gov/rabieseducation.