What age group is most at risk of being seriously bitten by a dog, and why?
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What age group is most at risk of being seriously bitten by a dog, and why?

Dogs
Health & Safety

Dog bites can be a bit of a sensitive subject for many people, both those that have been bitten and those that own dogs alike. Most people who have a reasonable amount to do with dogs will be bitten (if mildly) or at least, nipped or snapped at by a dog at least once in their lives, and even if the teeth don’t make contact or don’t cause any harm at all, this can be very frightening and upsetting.

Often, people who have been bitten by a dog or that witnessed a dog bite will be very shocked by the whole incident, and will very commonly say that the bite came without warning or any trigger, and could not have been prevented or predicted.

However, this tends to be at least partially untrue. Whilst most people, including most dog owners, don’t have the skills and expertise to read and interpret the full vocabulary of canine body language comprehensively enough to be able to spot a flashpoint approaching, dog bites rarely, if ever, happen out of the blue with no prior indication that this might happen.

Why any given dog might bite and what causes any given person to get bitten is hugely variable of course, and every incident, and the events that lead up to it, will be very different too.

However, based on the number of people of various different age groups that were admitted to a hospital in England between the end of March 2017 and the start of April 2018, statisticians have compiled a chart of what age demographics are most at risk of receiving a reasonably serious bite from a dog, and the results might not be what you’d expect!

In this article, we’ll share the results of this data and outline some of the potential reasons for why certain age demographics might be more at risk of receiving a relatively serious dog bite than others. Read on to learn more.

What the statistics tell us – and don’t tell us

The statistics we’re working with were compiled from hospital admission reports from across England between 31st March 2017 and 1st April 2018.

Ergo, the results reflect only statistics for people who were bitten by a dog and that attended hospital for the bite, and for which the bite was serious enough to result in admission to said hospital.

This means that the statistics don’t represent all dog bites across the country in the given timeframe, nor even all of those that resulted in a trip to A&E; just those that were warranted to be serious enough to require admission for treatment.

So, what age group are most at risk of receiving a serious dog bite injury?

What age group is most at risk of being bitten seriously enough to be admitted to hospital?

The age group that saw the highest number of hospital admissions for dog bite injuries within the twelve-month period stated was the 50-59 year old age group, with a total number of 1,308 recorded hospital admissions made during that time.

This is particularly interesting, as many people would have guessed that children are more likely to be bitten by dogs than any adult age demographic, and there are a number of valid reasons that would support this assumption.

However, children aren’t even the second most at-risk age demographic identified in the statistics either; that falls to the 40-49 year old age group, with a total number of 1,107 hospital admissions during the same time period.

Children aged from birth to nine years old come in third place, with 1,046 admissions, and children and young people aged 10-19 were in fact the second from last grouping in terms of risk, with just 684 hospital admissions – and the lowest ranked age grouping was those over 80 years of age, with 380 admissions.

What do the stats tell us about dog bites and age range?

The chart mapping dog bite numbers per age group fluctuates without any obvious pattern between the ten-year age blocks running from 0-9 to 30-39 respectively, with a notable downward dip in the 10-19 year old range. This dip indicates that young people once beyond their early childhoods are either more savvy about avoiding dog attacks than most, or less likely to be seriously harmed by a bite than demographics older or younger.

This is in itself fairly telling, and whilst we might never know for sure why those aged 50-59 are the peak age group for dog bite injuries serious enough to warrant hospital care, we can make a couple of fairly well-informed suppositions.

People aged 50-59 are approaching the upper range of adulthood and early stages of old age, and so are likely to be more vulnerable to suffering from more serious effects of a bite than someone younger who was bitten in much the same way.

People of this sort of age range too are likely to be relatively confident around dogs as a result of their decades of experience, whilst also being less likely to see themselves as at higher risk due to the effects of aging that might be warranted from people older than them again.

Supporting this, the number of hospital admissions due to dog attacks falls along a curve for the demographics older than the 50-59 age groups, which likely indicates less exposure to strange dogs, perhaps a more speculative outlook, and a tendency to perhaps become more risk-averse with age.

There is another element that might come into play as well, regarding how people of different age groups view and interact with dogs.

Whilst most people under the age of around 40 have been raised with the principle of positive reinforcement dog training as the benchmark and norm, those older than 40 will remember, and have lived in, the era when negative reinforcement was by far more common and even only recognised dog training approach.

This means that for many older people, negative reinforcement, which may include physical chastisement of a dog or using threat and dominance to secure obedience is the acceptable norm, or the way that they instinctively recognise canine interactions and deal with dogs.

Such an approach not only fails to be as effective to train and manage a dog as positive reinforcement, but is also more likely to generate a bad reaction in a dog too; such as defensive aggression.

Whilst the vast majority of people of all ages recognise and understand the value of positive reinforcement today, those that don’t like dogs, are scared of them, or that might not have had a lot to do with dogs for a couple of decades or more may not be aware of this at all, which could in theory increase their risk of being bitten.

This latter is purely conjecture and one potential element of a much wider overall combination of reasons why people aged 50-59 appear to be more at risk of a serious dog bite than others; but it is an interesting idea to consider!

The full statistics for dog bites requiring hospital admissions divided by age that we used as the source for this article can be found here.

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