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When man's best friend bites

Pet ownership is both a joy and a privilege. Animals, particularly dogs, provide unconditional love, companionship and entertainment to tens of millions of Americans. Dogs have been proven to help lower blood pressure and anxiety levels. Furthermore, specially trained service animals can help PTSD victims cope, guide their blind owners safely across busy traffic, and alert others when seizures occur.

The benefits of pet ownership are common knowledge, but the simple fact remains that dogs, even loving, domesticated ones we are very familiar with, can attack. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that around 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, and about 20 percent of those go on to acquire a potentially serious infection.

Complications of animal bites

The risk of infection is particularly high in animal bites because of the many different types of bacteria that live in a dog's mouth, as well as the fact that dogs are known to be intently curious about their environment, picking up garbage, waste material, discarded food and other unclean things.

Because of the tearing and jerking motions that many dogs make when they are biting (an evolutionary throwback to their lupine roots) and the deep penetration of their sharp teeth, injuries are often severe. Dog bites often result in:

  • Severe pain
  • Deep puncture wounds
  • Torn skin and musculature
  • Crush injuries to bones (particularly common when children are bitten)
  • Nerve damage
  • Digit amputation (fingers or toes, depending on the location of the original bite)
  • Scarring so extensive it requires revision or cosmetic surgery

Breeds to avoid?

Though some states have breed restrictions designed to keep so-called "dangerous" breeds of dogs away from the population, Texas is one of the few states that makes such restrictions illegal. The legislature recognizes that any dog can bite, regardless of breed or background. Tiny terriers can be menaces, and mastiffs can be gentle giants: it all depends on the individual dog, the circumstances it was raised in, whether it was provoked, and other factors.

Some breeds seem to bite more often (based on the number of fatal attacks reported to the CDC) than others do. These include:

  • Pit bull
  • Labrador
  • Rottweiler
  • American bulldog
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Belgian Malinois
  • German Shepherd

Anecdotal evidence collected from a number of sources suggests that Akitas, Chow Chows, Chihuahuas, Jack Russell Terriers, Cocker Spaniels and Mastiffs were also commonly responsible for biting people.

Because there is such a high likelihood of complications and long-term damage, dog bites should be taken seriously. If you or someone you love (statistically, children are more likely to be bitten because they are more naturally playful and inquisitive about animals) has been injured by a dog, you may need legal guidance. You should strongly consider reaching out to an experienced personal injury attorney in your area, particularly before you sign any settlement documents or accept an insurance claim.

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