Beware the biting jaws of “man’s best friend”

There are millions of dog bites victims across America each year.

According to American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates, there are about 78 million pet dogs across the country. Dogs of all shapes and sizes give us companionship, love, comfort, joy and entertainment. Trained service dogs help people suffering from a wide range of mental health and medical conditions, including PTSD, blindness, seizure disorders, muscular conditions, severe diabetes, paralysis, autism spectrum disorders and cancer. There are also health benefits to dog ownership; medical research proves that having a pet helps lower anxiety levels and blood pressure. It also encourages exercise and activity.

There are numerous benefits to having a pet, but there are also risks. Even the most loving, domesticated dogs can attack. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there are 4.5 million documented dog bites annually. Of those, an estimated 20 percent (almost a million) develop serious, potentially life-threatening infections and other complications.

Risks and complications of dog bites

Infections are common after bites because dog mouths are breeding grounds for many types of bacteria. Some of these are naturally occurring, while others are introduced by a dog's propensity towards curious exploration (riffling through garbage, picking up waste, eating discarded food and generally nosing around in unclean things).

Dogs have extremely strong jaws. Just like their wolf ancestors, they bite down with extreme pressure, use tearing motions and tend to rip flesh. Their deeply penetrating, sharp teeth, combined with back-and-forth jerking motions, often result in serious injury.

Common issues associated with dog bites and attacks include:

  • Puncture wounds that can penetrate down to the bone
  • Jagged tears in skin and musculature
  • Crush injuries (especially among children, who account for roughly half all dog bite victims)
  • Loss of digits or limbs (either in the initial attack or as a consequence of infection or complications)
  • Extensive scarring that leads to cosmetic or revision surgery
  • Nerve damage
  • Severe pain
  • Infections (if untreated, they can lead to skin/tissue death, the need for amputation, or the development of sepsis, a potentially lethal infection in the blood)
  • Mobility issues

Do some breeds bite more often?

Thirty-three states allow some form of breed-specific legislation that prohibits ownership of certain named breeds (these vary depending on the jurisdiction). Pennsylvania does not allow municipalities to discriminate against so-called "vicious" breeds. It does, however, grant local judges the authority to designate particular dogs as dangerous, and require owners to register those animals.

Though any dog can bite, there actually are some breeds that are statistically involved in a higher number of fatalities (as reported by the CDC), including:

  • Rottweilers
  • Bulldogs
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Pit Bulls

Even though CDC data isn't available for all dog breeds, anecdotal evidence based on medical reports and legal claims across the country also find a relatively high incidence of bites caused by terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Akitas, Chow Chows, Chihuahuas and Mastiffs.

Dog bites should always be taken seriously. Even if the wound doesn't appear too deep or doesn't result in much blood loss, it can still result in serious injury and life-threatening infection. If you or a loved one was bitten in Pennsylvania, you may need legal advice, particularly if the bite occurred at someone else's home. Contact the Pittsburgh or Bensalem law offices of Dorian, Goldstein, Wisniewski & Orchinik, P.C. before you sign any proposed settlement from a dog's owner or insurance company. Call them today at 215-809-3882 or contact them online to schedule a free initial consultation.