Sadly this week there was a fourth death of a human being from dogs this year. A 43 year old woman in Widnes was attacked and killed this week by two dogs in her home. Nowadays there are regularly four to five deaths a year from dogs in the UK. Track back nearly 30 years when the Dangerous Dogs Act was passed in 1991 and there were zero to two deaths a year in the previous decade.

The dog population has been quite stable in the UK so this increase is not due to there being more dogs. For example over the last 10 years the UK dog population has increased by 8%, whilst admissions to hospitals for severe dog bites has increased 54% . Look back further and we see a 240% increase since the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act. 

We don’t have good statistics for Accident and Emergency attendances because dog bites are recorded under the same code as bites from all other animals so it is not easy to unpick dog bites from this composite group. However, in 2015 Dr Chris Mannion, an oral and maxilla-facial surgeon from Leeds, estimated from his own local data of A&E attendances for dog bites that if this pattern was matched across the country there would be 250,000 A&E attendances each year. If the number of A&E attendances for dog bites has gone up at the same rate as admissions have, (which is likely), then we would estimate there are now around 272,500 people attending casualty departments each year in the UK for treatment for a dog bite. This equates to an estimated 5,240 people a week. 

Dr Carri Westgarth, Lecturer in Human Animal Interaction, at the Veterinary Sciences Institute, University of Liverpool, believes that there is not one single answer for why there has been an increase in dog aggression over this time. She advises that a public health, whole pathway approach is taken to understanding shifts in the breeding, socialisation, expectations of dogs and control of dogs over the years. 

One example of a shift in how dogs are managed is the reduction in the number of dog wardens. In the last decade there has been a drop in the number of dog wardens of about one third. Dog wardens previously had a prevention role, providing early intervention when a dog was known to be showing signs of aggressive towards humans, dogs or sheep. However, more and more councils are not just reducing the number of dog wardens they are also restricting their role to their statutory duty of dealing with stray dogs only.

Last year the government, in response to its own select committee review on the effectiveness of the Dangerous Dogs Act , commissioned some research from Middlesex University into the “ factors and situations that might cause dog attacks, and how to promote responsible dog ownership”. An interim report was expected in September this year and a final report by December 2019. Hopefully this report will provide the impetus for a review of a situation which is becoming progressively worse.

Dr. Hilary Guite – 26th September 2019

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