Dr. Phil Zeltzman’s Newsletter January 22, 2010

Dear Reader:

We will end today’s newsletter with another note on puppy mills, so please read on.

A Colorado group, named Coalition for Living Safely with Dogs, launched a huge study to investigate dog bites. Today we learn about who can bite, when, where, whom and why.

Welcome to our new readers in PA, as well as New York and Oklahoma.

Here is this week’s newsletter. I hope you find it interesting.

If you like what you read, feel free to direct family, friends, colleagues and clients to my web site and this newsletter.

Veterinarians, technicians and behaviorists can offer this free service to their clientele by telling their clients how to subscribe.

That is the best compliment you could give me. Thank you!


Dr. Phil Zeltzman

Any dog, of any breed, can bite

Colorado-based “Coalition for Living Safely with Dogs” launched a huge study to investigate dog bites. The study involved 20 questions, which 2060 people answered.

Below are some conclusions from the “Colorado study.” We should take these numbers with a grain of salt. A similar study in 1997 carried out in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, suggested that only 6% of dog bites were reported to officials.

Another caveat: there is no exact count of canine breeds in Colorado, so it is difficult to come up with exact statistics.

Still, the conclusions are very interesting.


Let’s start by saying that most dogs do not bite. Approximately 0.3% of the dogs were biters. So why worry about such a low number?

Because any dog can bite, given the right consequences.

And because of the medical, legal and financial consequences. What does this have to do with money?

Well, if your dog is attacked by another one, you might end up with hundreds or thousands of dollars in veterinary fees. We see this all the time. And unfortunately, some dogs never make it. We had a very sad reminder last week.

Anyway, when dogs do bite, many breeds are involved. To be exact, 129 breeds in this study. It includes “nice” breeds such as Golden retrievers. Approximately 40% of these dogs are mixed breeds. Then we have Labrador (11%), pit bulls (8%), German shepherds (8%) and Rottweilers (4%).

In fact, the exact circumstances of an attack seem to be more important than the breed itself.

Overall, German shepherds and boxers have a tendency to bite while protecting their territory. Huskies, pit bulls and Golden retrievers tend to bite humans who get involved in dogfights.


The most common cause of dog bites (18%) is a dog who runs away from home. With large breeds like pit bulls, German shepherds and boxers, the rate goes up to 25%.

In 12% of cases, biting humans is not even intentional. Many people had been bitten because they get in the middle of a dog fight.

As an aside, I have met several clients, and have mentioned one or two in this newsletter, who got bitten because they tried to protect their dog from another. It is very brave, but it can be risky business.

Half of dog bites occur in the dog’s own home. This happens as the dog defends its territory, food or a toy in 25% of the cases.


Males are responsible for 60% of dog bites. In addition, bites of a male dog are typically worse than those of a female.

Spaying and neutering does not seem to decrease the frequency of dog bites. However, dogs who run away tend to be “intact,” i.e., not spayed or neutered, and they are more likely to bite.

Male dogs tend to bite to protect their territory, food or a toy. Female dogs tend to bite during a dog fight.


Among young dogs (less than 1 year old), bites often occur during rough playing, running for freedom or a dog fight. Mature dogs (between 1 and 5 years of age) are responsible for most of the bites when they run away, they protect their territory or they are scared

Adult dogs (over 5 years old) mostly bite when they protect their territory, they escape or they fight.


Kids are the most common victims of dog bites, especially 9 to 10 year old boys. Men and women are equally involved in dog bites. As a general rule, kid bites are worse than adult bites.

Susan Bulanda, a behaviorist in Jim Thorpe, PA (http://www.sbulanda.com/), confirms it: “Typically, when a child is bitten by a dog, there is more damage than when an adult is bitten by a dog. First, the child’s face is closer to the dog (this is where most children are bitten), and second, because their bodies are smaller, more of them fit into the dog’s mouth”.

Kids tend to be bitten by runaway dogs. Other circumstances include playing with a dog, teasing a dog or startling one. Adults are often not present when a child gets bitten.


  • Dog owners should be responsible. It should be their job to prevent them from running away, to keep them on a leash and to provide some training.
  • It is critical to teach kids how to interact with a dog and to never leave them alone with a dog.
  • Kids should be taught to “roll into a ball and be still like a log.”
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover. Any dog of any breed can bite.
  • Adults and kids alike should behave responsibly with a stray dog.
  • For more info on the Coalition for Living Safely with Dogs, you can visit http://www.livingsafelywithdogs.org/.

A great question about pet shop puppies

A reader asks about puppies at pet stores:

“We bought our lab from a pet store, ended up with many surgeries at great expense, however, we feel we “rescued” her.

What happens to the dogs that don’t get purchased?”

Here is what another reader and canine pro answered:

99% of the time pups that “grow older” (…) just go on sale cheaper until they sell. I think some (pet shops) may be able to return puppies, but they do not get their money back (…).

The mark up is so much at the pet store that they can easily sell them MUCH cheaper than advertised and still not lose money.

Although I know many people feel sorry for the puppies, buying them only adds to the issue.

Keep in mind that it may be possible to get money back under the puppy lemon law.

Until next time,

Phil Zeltzman, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons


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