Knowing dog's body language may prevent bites

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dog bite

With 4.5 million Americans bitten by dogs annually, a record number of attacks on letter carriers and soaring insurance claims, it is clear that dog bites cut deep.

Veterinarians realize that while even the gentlest dog can bite, most bites can be prevented. As a founding sponsor of National Dog Bite Prevention Week®, held this year from May 15-22, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is committed to reducing the number of dog bites and helping owners maintain the loving bond between them and their dogs.

"Dogs not raised with good social skills can become dogs that bite," said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a past president of the AVMA and an internationally recognized expert in animal behavior. "It is important to socialize your dog and see how the dog interacts with people. Owners need to be able to read their dogs' body language."

Dr. Beaver added that children and dogs should never be left alone together unsupervised, even if that dog is considered well behaved and kid friendly. "Don't assume that a dog won't bite," she said.

The AVMA and the National Dog Bite Prevention Week coalition recognizes that bites are not a breed issue, but instead an economic, cultural and very human issue, and that education is key to preventing bites.

"I am pleased that the AVMA and members of the National Dog Bite Prevention Week Coalition, which include the U.S. Postal Service, State Farm Insurance, Insurance Information Institute, the American Humane Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and positive trainers such as Victoria Stilwell, realize that working together on educating the public is the best way to combat this very real public health issue," said veterinarian and AVMA Board of Directors member Dr. Lori Teller.

Dr. Teller, a veterinarian at the Meyerland Animal Clinic in Houston, represented veterinary medicine at the Houston kick-off.

"Pet owners should talk to their veterinarian regarding any behavioral concerns they may have," Teller said. "Their family veterinarian can assist in determining if there is a medical component; which medication, if any, would be most appropriate as part of an integrated treatment program; and whether or not a referral to a behavior specialist is warranted."

Resources from National Dog Bite Prevention Week Coalition members:

The AVMA, founded in 1863, is one of the oldest and largest veterinary medical organizations in the world, with more than 88,000 member veterinarians worldwide engaged in a wide variety of professional activities and dedicated to the art and science of veterinary medicine. National Pet Week was created by the AVMA and its Auxiliary in 1981 to promote responsible pet ownership.

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