I started researching this article because my 6-year old was recently bitten by a dog, and was shocked to learn what a common experience a dog bite is for children. According to several sources, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that half of all children 12 years or less have been bitten by a dog (I could not find this detail on the CDC site myself, but it was referenced on more than one other information site).
Bites are most common in 5-9 year olds and decrease with increasing age. In this age range, bites to boys are more common. Most bites are on the face. Most children are not bitten by strange dogs or are victims of random attacks, but by family dogs, friends' dogs or dogs they already know. The fact that a dog has never bitten before is no indication or assurance that they will not bite your child. According to safetyarounddogs.com (linked below) "Dog bite injuries are the second most frequent cause of visits to emergency rooms from 9 activities common among children."
There are some basic rules that all children and parents should know about interacting with dogs the cardinal rule that my daughter broke is that apparently dogs do not like being hugged (now I feel terrible that I didn't know this
it seems so natural that a child would want to hug a dog). First and what seems to be the most important is **NEVER leave a child unattended with a dog.** I found an excellent list of other safety tips written for a child at doggonesafe.com (linked below). I have a couple other suggestions not on this sheet that I've been taught personally or observed on my own (I'd be interested in hearing from dog experts if these are "real"). 1) Do not roughhouse with other kids or people in front of a dog (especially with someone in the dog's human family). 2) Do not allow babies or small children to play on hands and knees around a dog. 3) Do not allow children to get on a dog's level and make eye contact with the dog.
Having just gone through this, here's my insight on helping a child who has been bitten. Try not to panic but assess the situation. Remove your child and any other children from the dog and situation. Obviously if there is severe injury, take emergency action. If there is no immediate danger or active bleeding, focus on your child's emotional state and ready yourself to deal with the physical issues. Do not scold the child in that moment for anything they may have done to provoke the dog this is not a teachable moment save that for later when things are calm and the child can reflect more rationally. Use emotion-speak with your child "That must have been really frightening and surprising" and begin to move towards physical care.
We cleaned our daughter's bite, which was horrifyingly surrounding her right eye with broken skin marks, but miraculously not harming the eye, with baby wipes and applied antibiotic ointment. If treatment stings, blowing on it can help and is also calming. We used a zip bag of frozen vegetables to relieve pain and prevent swelling (a lot of kids won't leave this on long, so do your best.).
Call your doctor right away and as things calm down find someone to talk to (or locate) the owner and get the dog's health records (at least get a statement of them, but if you can get the real records you and your doctor will feel more assured than just taking a sure-to-be-anxious-and-defensive owner's word for it). In our case, it was a Sunday, and the pediatrician on-call told us to go immediately to the ER as soon as she heard the bite was near the eye. (As it is hard to assess the severity of something like a bite over the phone regardless of where it is, don't be surprised to get this same advice.)
I will tell you will all candor that we chose not to follow her advice I would NOT necessarily recommend that course of action to anyone else. In our case, my daughter had remained surprisingly calm, was old enough to tell us her eye did not hurt, and after what we felt was a quite thorough examination and test of the eye felt it was not harmed. We felt an ER visit would add more trauma and pain to her experience and that we would watch her carefully and could change our minds and go in at any moment. I did call and speak to her regular doctor on Monday and while she didn't exactly approve of our decision to ignore the advice of her colleague, did concede that everything sounded like it was going ok. She did remind us that even days afterwards, infection from a broken skin bite was still a possibility and we did check her very frequently for any signs of redness or fever that first day and night and several days later are still watching.
In terms of dealing with a facial bite, since the injuries scabbed over, we have applied a good, non-chemical sunscreen each day before school (I like UV Naturals Baby California Baby is also good and more available and affordable). This can be important in reducing scarring from a bite that is otherwise relatively minor. Once healed, we'll be switching over to scar-reducing ointment at night (like Mederma) and continuing sunscreen during the day (we did this before when our daughter had a small facial burn and it absolutely did work).
We feel incredibly lucky to have been faced with what is apparently a very common childhood experience with an outcome that is merely instructional for our daughters and for us, with what appears to be no lasting effect. I don't know yet what emotional effect there will be, as we haven't taken her around another dog yet but we did tell her that the dog wasn't mean or bad, but when she didn't heed his warning growl, it is normal dog behavior, which is why it's important to pay attention to a dog's signals. Please learn from our experience and go over the safety rules and information linked below with your child, and educate yourself on dog bite safety. Supervision by an educated adult and an informed child are the best defenses against a dog bite.
For more information, here's Amazon.com links to the facial treatment products that we use to prevent scarring from the bite:
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