Deadly dog bites are on the rise, CDC reports, but it's unclear what's driving the trend

From 2018 to 2021, deaths from dog bites more than doubled, but are still relatively rare

Published September 8, 2023 2:23PM (EDT)

Dog teeth growling, close-up (Getty Images/Виталий Куликов)
Dog teeth growling, close-up (Getty Images/Виталий Куликов)

Deaths caused by being bitten or attacked by a dog appear to be increasing, according to data released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today. Overall, the number of deaths caused by dogs across the country is very low, with fewer than 50 deaths per year on average, according to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Canine bites are common, but data suggests fewer than 1% will result in a hospital admission.

However, between 2011 and 2018, the number of deaths caused by being bitten or struck by a dog hovered around 20, with higher death rates for males versus females depending on the year. But between 2018 and 2021, deaths more than doubled among both sexes, the CDC reported.

The report is brief and doesn't dive into why deaths are increasing. One potential fatal complication from dog bites is contracting rabies, but this data set excludes rabies cases. In a 2021 study that found fatal dog attacks have also been increasing in Europe, with 45 Europeans killed in 2016, the authors suggested that deaths caused by dog attacks could also be related to secondary dangers caused by the attack, like falls. Another study published in June found dog attacks may be caused by humans misunderstanding cues dogs were trying to communicate, like baring their teeth.

If a dog looks like it's about to attack, there are things you can do to reduce your chances of being bit. WBUR reports a few tips, including standing still rather than running, using a firm voice to try and give the dog commands and avoiding eye contact.

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