Spike in Dog Bites Sends Californians to ERs in Record Numbers

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Jan 31, 2024

You should think twice about trying to pet that cute dog from across the street. According to the latest California data, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths from dog bites have increased.

Dog bites are a serious thing that has led to many visiting the emergency room since, well, forever! But why has this number increased dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic?

More Californians Are Being Bit By Dogs

The Department of Health Care Access and Information reports that there were 48,596 ER visits for dog bites in California–that’s about 125 visits per 100,000 residents. This is a massive jump from previous years.

Two Yellow Labrador Retriever Puppies sitting in a field of orange flowers

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In 2005, the rate was 70 percent less than it is today. What is happening to man’s best friend?

Who Are Most Vulnerable to Dog Bites? 

A study by public health researchers and state figures shows that children and young adults in California are the age groups most likely to make ER visits for dog bites. The most likely group to visit the ER for canine bites are children under five years old.

Girl and Puppy Sitting on Green Grass Surrounded With Plants During Daytime

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2018 to 2022, children under five are twice as likely to die from dog bites compared to members of any other age group.

Children Under Five Are the Most “Vulnerable”

Young children are more likely to perish from dog bites because vital areas like the head and neck are more vulnerable. Randall T. Loder, professor emeritus of orthopedic surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine, believes that young children also do not understand the risks of a dog.

Girl in White Shirt and Black Pants Playing with Brown Dog

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While dogs can sometimes protect children like this dog did for this 7-year-old, Loder says that children are “vulnerable” to dog bites. “Younger people, they don’t understand the risks of a dog,” said Loder, who authored a recent study of tens of thousands of dog bite injuries.

There Has Been an Increase in Deaths By Dog Bites 

Dog bites are something to take seriously. While deaths from dog bites are rare, these types of deaths have increased by 70 percent in California with 28 deaths in the state from 2018 through 2022.

Spike in Dog Bites Sends Californians to ERs in Record Numbers

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On the national scale, dog bites were the cause of 96 deaths in 2022, which is double that rate from 2005 to 2022 (via CDC).

Can Dog Bites Be Fatal?

Dog bites can be fatal in rare cases. Most dog bites do not lead to deadly complications, but infection, allergic reactions, and rabies are some of the potential risks that come with getting attacked by an unknown dog.

Black dog barking with wide open mouth

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Again, these are typically uncommon outcomes, and most dog bites heal without issues. The rise in dog bite-related deaths is shocking to discover, so why is it happening?


Why Are Dogs Biting More People Than Ever Before?

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, millions more people adopted puppies to combat the isolation blues. Unfortunately, many of these pandemic pups were kept from socializing and became deeply attached to their owners, making them extremely overprotective.

Shallow Focus Photography of Adult Black and White Border Collie

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According to Elizabeth Stelow, chief of the Behavior Service at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, these puppies’ isolation led to behavior that would affect them for the rest of their lives.


Pandemic Pups Were Missing a Vital Aspects of Health Growth 

“You’re supposed to socialize that puppy to new kinds of people, new kinds of animals, new kinds of places, new kinds of everything,” Stelow said to The Mercury News. “Nobody was able to do that. So we’re seeing the effects of that all the time right now.”

Tri-color Beagle and West Highland White Terrier Puppies Playing on Lawn Grass

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Poorly socialized puppies mean more aggressive adult dogs that can bite harder and do more harm.


Is This an Isolated Issue? 

From 2021 to 2022, the number of ER visits in California for dog bites increased 12 percent. This was the highest yearly total ever seen by the state. It is unclear if this is a nationwide issue.

Close-Up Photo of Doberman Pinscher With Black Muzzle copy

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A recent study that showed the numbers regarding ER visits for dog bites was only pulled from California. However, several national studies did show a rise in ER visits caused by dog bites during the pandemic.


The Reason Could Be the Type of Dog You Have

If you are a pandemic pup parent, don’t freak out! There is another explanation for the increased number of dog bites in the U.S. According to PR Newswire, there has been a rise in popularity for breeds that can be aggressive by nature.

A Grey and White Pit Bull in a Field

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Kenneth Phillips, a prominent lawyer who specializes in dog bite litigation, told The Mercury News pins the blame on pit bulls, a popular breed in the U.S. “Every study always comes up with the same conclusion, which is that this is the dog that does the most damage,” he said.


Are Pit Bulls to Blame?

The simple answer is no. While pit bulls may not be aggressive by nature, some studies suggest that pit bulls have a stronger bite force than other dog breeds. This can cause severe injuries, even more depending on the dog’s size.

American Pit Bull Terrier Jumping on Green Grass

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However, Stelow says that socialized and trained pit bulls are not more dangerous than other dog breeds. “Why is the No. 1 dog demographic for dog bites pit bulls? Because they’re a huge percentage of the canine population in California,” she said.


What Can You Do to Help Your Pandemic Pup? 

Stelow suggests that owners of aggressive dogs reach out to a veterinarian who specializes in animal behavior. Learning to recognize anxiety in dogs and understand their body language can help prevent people from being near a dog that is ready to bite.

Two Adult Black-and-tan German Shepherds Running on Ground

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“For the dogs that are already in that situation where they are biting people,” Stelow said, “they need to come to see someone who can work with the emotional damage that’s been done and try to correct it.”