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How many people have been bitten by dogs? A cross-sectional survey of prevalence, incidence and factors associated with dog bites in a UK community
  1. Carri Westgarth1,2,
  2. Megan Brooke2,
  3. Robert M Christley1,2
  1. 1 Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, Institute of Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool, Cheshire, UK
  2. 2 Institute of Veterinary Science, University of Liverpool, Cheshire, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Carri Westgarth, Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, Institute of Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool, Cheshire, CH647TE, UK; carri.westgarth{at}


Background Dog bite studies are typically based on hospital records and may be biased towards bites requiring significant medical treatment. This study investigated true dog bite prevalence and incidence at a community-level and victim-related risk factors, in order to inform policy and prevention.

Methods A cross-sectional study of a community of 1280 households in Cheshire, UK, surveyed 694 respondents in 385 households. Data included dog ownership and bite history, demographics, health and personality (Ten Item Personality Inventory (TIPI) brief measure). Multivariable logistic regression modelled risk factors for having ever been bitten by a dog, accounting for clustering of individuals within households.

Results A quarter of participants (24.78%, 95% CI 21.72 to 28.13) reported having ever been bitten by a dog during their lifetime, with only a third of bites described requiring further medical treatment and 0.6% hospital admission. Incidence of dog bites was 18.7 (11.0–31.8) per 1000 population per year. Males were 1.81 times more likely to have been bitten in their lifetime than females (95% CI 1.20 to 2.72, P=0.005). Current owners of multiple dogs were 3.3 times more likely (95% CI 1.13 to 9.69, P=0.03) to report having been bitten than people not currently owning a dog. Regarding all bites described, most commonly people were bitten by a dog that they had never met before the incident (54.7%). Individuals scoring higher in emotional stability had a lower risk of having ever been bitten (OR=0.77 for 1 point change in scale between 1 and 7, 95% CI 0.66 to 0.9, P=0.001).

Conclusion This study suggests that the real burden of dog bites is considerably larger than those estimated from hospital records. Further, many bites do not require medical treatment and hospital-based bite data are not representative of bites within the wider population. Victim personality requires further investigation and potential consideration in the design of bite prevention schemes.

  • dogs
  • canine
  • bites
  • epidemiology
  • community surveys

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  • Contributors CW and RMC conceived and designed the study. CW collected the data. MB, CW and RMC analysed the data. MB drafted the first manuscript. CW and RMC revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript. All authors had full access to all of the data (including statistical reports and tables) in the study and can take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. CW and RMC serve as guarantors for the paper.

  • Funding This research was funded by a Medical Research Council Population Health Scientist Fellowship (Grant ref: G1002402) held by CW.

  • Disclaimer The study sponsors had no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report and in the decision to submit the article for publication.

  • Competing interests CW had financial support from the Medical Research Council for the data collection which led to this work; there are no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; CW and RMC are founding members of the Merseyside Dog Safety Partnership, an unpaid meeting of stakeholders to discuss local strategy and share resources.

  • Ethics approval The study received ethical approval from the University of Liverpool Veterinary Ethics Committee (VREC334a).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The dataset is available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.