As of May 25, 2013, the USA death count from dogs in 2013 is 14. Of these, 13 people were killed by pit bulls. In recent years, the dogs responsible for the bulk of the homicides are pit bulls and Rottweilers:

"Studies indicate that pit bull-type dogs were involved in approximately a third of human DBRF (i.e., dog bite related fatalities) reported during the 12-year period from 1981 through1992, and Rottweilers were responsible for about half of human DBRF reported during the 4 years from 1993 through 1996....[T]he data indicate that Rottweilers and pit bull-type dogs accounted for 67% of human DBRF in the United States between 1997 and 1998. It is extremely unlikely that they accounted for anywhere near 60% of dogs in the United States during that same period and, thus, there appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities." (Sacks JJ, Sinclair L, Gilchrist J, Golab GC, Lockwood R. Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998. JAVMA 2000;217:836-840.) 

The Clifton study of attacks from 1982 through 2006 produced similar results. According to Clifton study, pit bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios and their mixes were responsible for 65% of the canine homicides that occurred during a period of 24 years in the USA. (Clifton, Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to November 13, 2006; click here to read it.)

Other breeds were also responsible for homicides, but to a much lesser extent. A 1997 study of dog bite fatalities in the years 1979 through 1996 revealed that the following breeds had killed one or more persons: pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds, huskies, Alaskan malamutes, Doberman pinschers, chows, Great Danes, St. Bernards and Akitas. (Dog Bite Related Fatalities," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 30, 1997, Vol. 46, No. 21, pp. 463 et. seq.) Since 1975, fatal attacks have been attributed to dogs from at least 30 breeds.

The most horrifying example of the lack of breed predictability is the October 2000 death of a 6-week-old baby, which was killed by her family's Pomeranian dog. The average weight of a Pomeranian is about 4 pounds, and they are not thought of as a dangerous breed. Note, however, that they were bred to be watchdogs! The baby's uncle left the infant and the dog on a bed while the uncle prepared her bottle in the kitchen. Upon his return, the dog was mauling the baby, who died shortly afterwards. ("Baby Girl Killed by Family Dog," Los Angeles Times, Monday, October 9, 2000, Home Edition, Metro Section, Page B-5.)

In Canine homicides and the dog bite epidemic: do not confuse them, it has been pointed out that the dog bite epidemic as a whole involves all dogs and all dog owners, not just the breeds most likely to kill. In all fairness, therefore, it must be noted that:

  • Any dog, treated harshly or trained to attack, may bite a person. Any dog can be turned into a dangerous dog. The owner or handler most often is responsible for making a dog into something dangerous. 
  • An irresponsible owner or dog handler might create a situation that places another person in danger by a dog, without the dog itself being dangerous, as in the case of the Pomeranian that killed the infant (see above). 
  • Any individual dog may be a good, loving pet, even though its breed is considered to be potentially dangerous. A responsible owner can win the love and respect of a dog, no matter its breed. One cannot look at an individual dog, recognize its breed, and then state whether or not it is going to attack. 

To learn more about dog attacks, see Why dogs bite people To learn about how to take some of the bite out of the dog bite epidemic, see Attorney Kenneth Phillips' 10-point plan for Preventing Dog Bites.

There have been many news reports about deaths caused by dogs in the USA. The attention given to the homicides has put the spotlight on pit bulls and Rottweilers. There is a very good reason for focusing on these two breeds: in recent years, they have usually been the number one and number two canine killers of humans. (See The breeds most likely to kill.) Furthermore, a recent study by hospital physicians also has established that attacks by pit bulls are associated with higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death than are attacks by other breeds of dogs. (Read the abstract.)

However, one must differentiate between canine homicides and dog bites. They are hardly the same. For the 30 to 35 canine homicides per year, there are more than 4.5 million bites, with 850,000 of the bite victims requiring medical attention. Pit bulls certainly do cause the worst bites and the highest number of homicides, but they and Rottweilers are not the cause of all dog bites. The dog bite epidemic involves all dogs and all dog owners. While pit bulls and Rottweilers inflict a disproportionate number of serious and even fatal injuries, the dog bite epidemic involves many different breeds, and results from many different causes. 

To reduce dog bites, we must address all of the reasons for the epidemic. They include things like underfunding of animal control departments, and failure to educate children and dog owners. Efforts should not be limited to only banning breeds, or only reducing the population of breeds, or only increasing criminal penalties when dogs bite. The war on this epidemic must be comprehensive.

For more information on addressing the entirely of the dog bite problem, see Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips' 10-point plan for Preventing Dog Bites

graphThe number of dogs

There currently are 83.3 million dogs in the USA, which are kept by 56.7 million households. (American Pet Products Association, 2013-2014 APPA National Pet Owners Survey Statistics: Pet Ownership & Annual Expenses.)

The number of victims

The most recent USA survey of dog bites conducted by CDC researchers concluded that in 2001, 2002 and 2003 there were 4.5 million American dog bite victims per year (1.5% of the entire population). (Sacks JJ, Kresnow M. Dog bites: still a problem? Injury Prevention 2008 Oct;14(5):296-301 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18836045.)

Dog bites send nearly 316,200 victims to hospital emergency departments per year (898 per day). (Holmquist, L. (Thomson Reuters), and Elixhauser, A. (AHRQ). Emergency Department Visits and Inpatient Stays Involving Dog Bites, 2008. November 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb101.pdf)

Approximately 750,000 dog bite victims require medical care each year. (J.J. Sacks, M.Kresnow, and B.Houston, Dog Bites: How Big a Problem?, Injury Prevention, March 1996; 2: 52-54, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1067642/.)

In 2015, more than 28,000 reconstructive surgery procedures were performed because of dog bites. (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2015 Plastic Surgery Statistics, p. 9, http://www.dogsbite.org/pdf/2015-plastic-surgery-statistics-report.pdf.)

16,476 dog bites to persons aged 16 years or greater were work related in 2001. (Ibid., Nonfatal Dog Bite–Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments — United States, 2001, MMWR 2003;52:608.

5,900 letter carriers were bitten in 2012. (US Postal Service.) Los Angeles is the worst city in the USA for mail carrier dog bites. (Read the article.)

Getting bitten by a dog is the fifth most frequent cause of visits to emergency rooms caused by activities common among children. (See Weiss HB, Friedman DI, Coben JH. Incidence of dog bite injuries treated in emergency departments, JAMA 1998;279:53; also see US Consumer Product Safety Commission, Injuries associated with selected sports and recreational equipment treated in hospital emergency departments, calendar year 1994. Consumer Product Safety Review, Summer 1996;1:5.) Note that this comparison is limited to activities that children more or less voluntarily engage in, such as playing sports, playing with animals, etc. Dog bite injuries are not specifically set forth in Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, Child Injury and Mortality, pp. 36, 37, 136 and 137, which states that the leading causes of emergency room visits overall are falls, being struck by or against an object, natural or environmental causes, poisening, being cut or pierced, and motor vehicle accident.

Dog bites have risen in number and severity since the 1980s

It appears clear that the number of dog bites as well as their severity has risen dramatically since the 1980s.

  • There was a 36% increase in medically attended bites from 1986 to 1994. In 1986, 585,000 people required medical attention or restricted activity (Sosin DM, Sachs JJ, Sattin RW. Causes of nonfatal injuries in the United States, 1986. Accid. Anal. Prev. 1992;24:685-687) but by 1994 an estimated 800,000 sought medical care for bites. (Weiss HB, Friedman D, Coben JH. Incidence of dog bite injuries treated in emergency departments. JAMA 1998;279:51-53.) 
  • There was an 86% increase in hospitalizations because of dog bites from 1993 to 2008. The number went from 5,100 hospitalizations in 1993, to 9,500 in 2008. The average cost of treatment was $18,200 per patient. The patients generally were kids under 5 years old and seniors over 65. (US Dept. of Health and Human Services, Hospital Admissions for Dog Bites Increase 86 Percent Over a 16-Year Period, Dec. 1, 2010.)
  • There was an 82% increase in fatal dog attacks from the 1980s to 2012. The average number of canine homicides per year was 17 in the 1980s and 1990s (see below); it has risen to an average of over 31 human deaths per year since 2007, with the number reaching 37 in 2012. There were 33 fatalities in 2007, 23 in 2008, 30 in 2009, 34 in 2010, 31 in 2011, 37 in 2012 and 32 in 2013. (Kenneth M. Phillips, Canine Homicides, a section of Dangerous and Vicious Dogs, dogbitelaw.com, 2013.)

The number of human fatalities caused by dog bites is rising

The number of fatal dog attacks in the USA has been going up. The yearly average was 17 in the 1980s and 1990s; in the past 10 years (2006 to 2015, inclusive) the average has been 35. (Colleen Lynn, Dog Bite Fatalities, http://www.dogsbite.org/dog-bite-statistics-fatalities.php.) 

The yearly number of fatal dog attacks in the USA is variously reported as 12, 17 and 26, but this discrepency is caused by citing studies which took place in different years. It is most accurate to say that the average number was 17 in the 1980s and 1990s, and that it has risen to 35 in the past decade. The article mentioning 12 deaths per year was published by CDC as Dog-Bite-Related Fatalities -- United States, 1995-1996, MMWR 46(21):463-467, 1997. It related that there were 25 documented deaths in 1995 and 1996 (i.e., 12.5 per year), but a footnote said that the figure 25 probably represented only 75% of the actual number of dog bite related fatalities. This article nevertheless is the source of the oft-cited and misquoted statistic that there are only 12 deaths per year; the footnote is always ignored. This is especially puzzling because the same article cited two prior studies: Sacks JJ, Sattin RW, Bonzo SE. Dog bite-related fatalities from 1979 through 1988, JAMA 1989;262:1489-92, and Sacks JJ, Lockwood R, Hornreich J, Sattin RW. Fatal dog attacks, 1989-1994. Pediatrics 1996;97:891-5. Taken together, the three articles show that from 1979 to 1996, 304 people in the USA died from dog attacks, making the average number of deaths per year 17. Therefore, it is more accurate to summarize the publications as showing that the average number of deaths during the 18-year period of 1979 to 1996 was 17, despite the fact that the CDC itself routinely says the figure is 12, ignoring the footnote mentioned above.

More recent information about fatal dog attacks is found in publications by individuals, not governmental agencies:

  • Merritt Clifton, Dog Attack Deaths and Maimings, US and Canada, September 1982 to November 13, 2006, click here to download.
  • Colleen Lynn, DogsBite.org. Her site contains details and citations pertaining to all recent fatal dog attacks on humans.

The deadliest dogs

A review of 82 dog bite cases at a level 1 trauma center where the breed of dog was identified concludes that attacks by pit bulls are associated with higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death than are attacks by other breeds of dogs. Bini, John K. MD; Cohn, Stephen M. MD; Acosta, Shirley M. RN, BSN; McFarland, Marilyn J. RN, MS; Muir, Mark T. MD; Michalek, Joel E. PhD; for the TRISAT Clinical Trials Group, Mortality, Mauling, and Maiming by Vicious Dogs, Annals of Surgery (April 2011, Vol. 253, Issue 4, pp. 791–797).

Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People, has conducted an unusually detailed study of dog bites from 1982 to the present. (Clifton, Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to November 13, 2006; click here to read it.) The Clifton study show the number of serious canine-inflicted injuries by breed. The author's observations about the breeds and generally how to deal with the dangerous dog problem are enlightening. According to the Clifton study, pit bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios and their mixes are responsible for 74% of attacks that were included in the study, 68% of the attacks upon children, 82% of the attacks upon adults, 65% of the deaths, and 68% of the maimings. In more than two-thirds of the cases included in the study, the life-threatening or fatal attack was apparently the first known dangerous behavior by the animal in question. Clifton states:

If almost any other dog has a bad moment, someone may get bitten, but will not be maimed for life or killed, and the actuarial risk is accordingly reasonable. If a pit bull terrier or a Rottweiler has a bad moment, often someone is maimed or killed--and that has now created off-the-chart actuarial risk, for which the dogs as well as their victims are paying the price.
 

Clifton's opinions are as interesting as his statistics. For example, he says, "Pit bulls and Rottweilers are accordingly dogs who not only must be handled with special precautions, but also must be regulated with special requirements appropriate to the risk they may pose to the public and other animals, if they are to be kept at all."

Clifton's website is Animals 24/7 and his compendium of pit bull information is titled Pit Bull Statistics. He is one of the top two researchers in the USA pertaining to pit bulls, the other being Colleen Lynn whose website is Dogs Bite. Ms. Lynn's entire website is devoted to detailed analysis of pit bull mayhem. 

The areas of the body that are bitten

Judging only by hospital admissions, 43 percent of people hospitalized for dog bites required treatment for skin and underlying tissue infection; 22 percent had wounds of the legs or arms; 10.5 percent had wounds of the head, neck and torso; and the remaining patients had problems ranging from bone fracture to blood poisoning. (US Dept. of Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.)

The financial impact of dog bites

Dog attack victims in the US suffer over $1 billion in monetary losses every year. ("Take the bite out of man's best friend." State Farm Times, 1998;3(5):2.) That $1 billion estimate might be low -- an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that, in 1995, State Farm paid $70 million on 11,000 claims and estimated that the total annual insurance cost for dog bites was about $2 billion. (Voelker R. "Dog bites recognized as public health problem." JAMA 1997;277:278,280.)

The average cost of a dog bite-related inpatient stay was $18,200, about 50 percent higher than the cost of the average injury-related hospitalization ($12,100). (Holmquist, L. (Thomson Reuters), and Elixhauser, A. (AHRQ). Emergency Department Visits and Inpatient Stays Involving Dog Bites, 2008. November 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb101.pdf)

Approximately half of the medical costs of dog bites are paid by Medicare, Medicaid and the victims themselves, while slightly less than half the costs are paid by private insurance. (Holmquist, L. (Thomson Reuters), and Elixhauser, A. (AHRQ). Emergency Department Visits and Inpatient Stays Involving Dog Bites, 2008. November 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb101.pdf)

Dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2015, costing more than $570 million, with the average claim costing $37,214. (Insurance Information Institute, Dog Bite Liability, May 2016, http://www.iii.org/issue-update/dog-bite-liability.)

The scene of the attack

Over 50 percent of the bites occur on the dog owner's property. (See Insurance Information Institute, Dog Bite Liability, accessed 8/30/07.)

Dogs bite family and friends

The vast majority of biting dogs (77%) belong to the victim's family or a friend.

California statistics

According to the California Department of Public Health, Investigation, Mangement, and Prevention of Animal Bites in California (3rd Ed., 2014):

  • In 2011, over 50,000 animal bites (136 per 100,000 persons) were reported to local health departments and animal control agencies in California. (P. 2.)
  • Between 2006 and 2010, 77 percent of all animal bites reported in California were attributed to domestic dogs. (P. 2.)
  • In California, pit bulls account for 29% of all dog bites, putting them at the top of the list of biting dogs, followed by the German Shepherd (15%) and Chihuahua (11%). (P. 2.)

In California, emergency department visits for treatment of dog bites increased from 35,020 in 2010 to 38,657 in 2015. (California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, Dog Bites: Emergency Department Data 2010-2015 (chart).)

Worldwide problem

The USA is not the only country with the dog bite problem. In Britain, the number of people being admitted to accident and emergency (A&E, called the "emergency room" or "ER" in the USA) as a result of dog attacks has risen by 43 per cent in the last four years. Hospitalisation of children and young people has risen by a fifth, while 58 per cent more adults are being admitted to A&E due to attacks by dogs. In London there has been a 119 per cent rise in hospitalisation of under-18s as a result of dog attacks. (Read the articles in the Evening Standard and on inthenews.co.uk.)

Canadian statistics are contained in Injuries Associated With Dog Bites and Dog Attacks, from CHIRPP (Canada). Australian statistics are summarized in The public health impact of dog attacks in a major Australian city, from The Medical Journal of Australia.

For more information

Medscape has a table showing the number of dog bite fatalities by state.

Interested in extraordinary detail about the who, what, when and where (but not breeds) associated with dog bites? Very informative and detailed data are contained in Injuries Associated With Dog Bites and Dog Attacks, from CHIRPP (Canada).

One of the most detailed studies of dog attacks in the USA is Clifton, Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to November 13, 2006.

A great souce of statistical information about nonfatal dog bites is Nonfatal Dog Bite-Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments - United States, 2001. This appeared in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (July 4, 2003 / 52(26);605-610), a publication of the Centers for Disease Control.

Texas Department of Health, 1999 Severe Animal Attack and Bite Surveillance Summary. This document provides interesting details about severe dog bite accidents in Texas.

See the links to Karen Delise and Colleen Lynn, above. They and Merrit Clifton have ongoing studies of the dog bite problem and have different points of view as to its cause, significance and effect.

Dog bite losses exceed $1 billion per year. In 2015, 35 Americans were killed by dogs, down from 42 the prior year. Each year, more than 350,000 dog bite victims are seen in emergency rooms, and approximately 850,000 victims receive medical attention. Data that the CDC collected in the USA between 2001 and 2003 indicated there were 4.5 million dog bite victims per year, but that figure appears to be rising. 

Despite the number of victims, only 15,000 to 16,000 of them per year receive money from homeowners insurance companies and renters insurance companies. This means that out of the 850,000 who get medical attention, only two victims per 100 receive compensation. Although insurers pay over $350 million to victims, the nationwide, average insurance payment for a dog bite case is only $29,752. The payouts have increased by 55.3 percent in the past decade. 

For details and more information, see: