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EXPERT AVAILABLE: As Risk of Dog Bites Increases During Warm Weather, MU Surgeon Offers Safety Tips for Children and Adults

June 4th, 2014

Story Contact: Jeff Sossamon, 573-882-3346,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Approximately 4.5 million Americans—about half of whom are children—are bitten by dogs each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that about 27,000 reconstructive procedures were done to repair damage from dog bites in 2013. As summer begins, an MU plastic surgeon is providing tips for how adults can avoid dog bites and teach children to stay safe around dogs.

“Dog bites are common year-round, but we’ve seen an increase in cases over the last month,” said Stephen Colbert, an MU plastic surgeon and assistant professor of surgery in the MU School of Medicine. “As the weather warms up and people spend more time outside, they tend to have more interactions with dogs. Luckily, the majority of dog bites are largely preventable.”

Colbert said that adults can reduce the risk of being bitten by avoiding dogs with histories of aggressive behavior, reducing aggressive tendencies by spaying or neutering pet dogs, and properly training and socializing household pets. He also said that parents can teach children basic safety tips to reduce their likelihood of being bitten, such as:

  • Do not play with dogs without adult supervision and always tell an adult if dogs are behaving strangely or seem stray.
  • Do not approach unfamiliar dogs. If approached by an unfamiliar dog, stay still and avoid direct eye contact.
  • Allow them to see and sniff a hand before petting them.
  • Do not run from or scream near dogs.
  • Roll into a ball and lie still if knocked over by a dog.
  • Do not disturb dogs that are sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.

“As we travel and visit friends or family over the summer, it’s important to be aware that even familiar dogs can become aggressive,” Colbert said. “In many situations, children are more comfortable than the dogs, and that may not always be apparent. If bitten, clean the affected area, wrap it with a clean bandage or dressing, and seek medical attention if the bite is severe.”