Dog Attacks: Victims Double Since Pandemic, Surgeon Says

14 January 2024

Surgeons at a plastic surgery unit in West Sussex report a significant increase in the number of dog-attack victims since the start of the pandemic.

The number of dog attacks resulting in hospital admissions has doubled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to surgeons at Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, West Sussex. Plastic surgeons at the hospital have seen a rise in admissions from 116 in 2019 to 237 in 2022. The increase in dog bites can be attributed to the rise in dog ownership during the pandemic. Children are particularly affected by these attacks, with the number of children treated for dog bites also doubling in the past year. This surge in dog attacks has prompted the government to collaborate with the police to prevent such incidents.

Surgeon Highlights the Severity of Dog Bites

Siva Kumar, a consultant surgeon at Queen Victoria Hospital, has emphasized the severity of dog bites treated at their trauma clinic. Kumar stated that they see at least one or two patients with dog bites every day, and the number of cases has doubled in the past year. He also noted that the number of children with dog bites has seen a similar increase. Kumar expressed concern for the psychological impact on children, as they may carry the scars from these incidents for the rest of their lives.

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National Data Reflects Steady Increase in Hospital Admissions for Dog Bites

National data from NHS Digital reveals a steady increase in hospital admissions for dog bites over the past decade. In 2022-23, there were 9,277 admissions, a 47% increase from 2012-13 when there were 6,317 admissions. However, the increase in admissions for under-18s has been relatively smaller, with an 8% rise to 1,740 admissions in the same period. It is important to note that one dog bite can result in multiple admissions, and these figures may not capture all incidents resulting in hospitalization.

Personal Stories Highlight the Impact of Dog Attacks

Darren Davies, a painter and decorator, shared his experience of being bitten by a dog while walking another dog near his home in Staplehurst. Davies suffered serious hand injuries and required treatment at Queen Victoria Hospital. He described the incident as happening so fast that he didn’t even see the bite, emphasizing the severity of the injury.

Kerry Stevens, who was attacked by a crossbreed dog in 2014, also shared her story. She suffered severe injuries and required multiple operations at the same hospital. Stevens expressed that while physical scars may heal, the psychological impact of the attack lingers. She called for stricter regulations, including muzzling, for dogs that could pose a danger.

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Government Takes Steps to Address Dog Attacks

A BBC investigation conducted last year revealed a 36% increase in recorded dog attacks by police in England and Wales over the past five years. In response, the government has introduced new rules for owning bully XL dogs, a breed disproportionately involved in fatal attacks. These dogs must now be kept on a lead and muzzled in public. From February 1, 2023, it will be illegal to own a bully XL dog without an exemption certificate. Charities are advocating for a comprehensive review of the Dangerous Dogs Act, including stricter penalties for owners who fail to control their dogs.

Lack of Socialization Contributes to Dog Bites

Pippa Apps, a dog behaviorist and trainer, suggests that the increase in dog bites may be linked to a lack of proper socialization during the pandemic. She explains that the critical period for socialization is up to four months of age, and dogs that have not been exposed to positive social experiences during this time may struggle to cope in social settings as they grow older.

Conclusion: The rise in dog attacks resulting in hospital admissions during the COVID-19 pandemic has raised concerns among surgeons and experts. The increase in dog ownership during this period, coupled with potential issues related to socialization, has contributed to this alarming trend. The government has taken steps to address the issue, including introducing new regulations for certain breeds. However, charities are calling for a broader review of existing legislation to ensure the safety of the public and impose stricter penalties on irresponsible dog owners. As the number of dog attacks continues to rise, it is crucial to prioritize prevention and education to protect both humans and animals.

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