The family dog is usually a much loved member of the family, but as news reports too often reveal, things can go wrong, resulting in a serious injury - or worse.
"Generally dogs are inherently good with children and an actual attack on a child is basically unheard of," she says, "but a bite will happen mostly when the child over-steps a boundary and the dog either gets a fright or is put under stress."
Parents must teach children to never approach a sleeping dog from behind, Van der Walt says, as this type of startle is one of the most common ways children are bitten.
"The second most common bite," she tells us, "and here an attack can happen, because there an essential resource is involved, is when kids approach a dog while it’s eating."
And yes, the dog's breed is important.
Van der Walt says that some of the best breeds around kids include Labradors, Golden retrievers and Beagles.
"Less preferable family dog breeds include Alaskan Malamutes, Bullmastiffs and Chihuahuas," she adds.
"If the family can't exercise the dog appropriately, according to the individual's breed, age and state of health, then digging, barking or chewing and other behavioural problems may result," she warns.
A dangerous situation
Rene Grobler, Netcare’s national quality and systems manager for trauma and emergency, told Parent24 that children, especially those under the age of 15 years, are unfortunately particularly prone to being bitten by dogs.
"Another key concern is of the possibility of them contracting the rabies virus if bitten, as dogs are the main carriers of the rabies virus, which is of particular concern in some parts of our country," she warns.
For this reason, educating children on behaviours that can help reduce the chances of them being bitten is a vital step in preventing injury due to dog attacks and the spread of the rabies virus.
To this end, the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) and Netcare’s trauma injury prevention (TIP) programme teamed up a few years ago to develop an informative booklet, which is supported by the World Health Organization.
A particular emphasis is placed on teaching children about responsible pet ownership, understanding dogs’ body language, and the behaviours people should avoid in their interactions with dogs that could provoke aggression.
If a dog does attack:
- If a dog runs towards you, stand still and remain quiet "like a tree" with your hands at your sides. Usually, the dog will soon lose interest.
- Try to keep still and do not pull away from the dog
- If you fall roll into a ball, tucking your arms and legs in.
While prevention is always better than cure, unfortunately dog attacks do still occur.
If the child is bitten, it is important to take the child to the emergency department for an assessment of the wound, potential Tetanus immunisation and a rabies risk assessment, even if the wound is not bleeding badly.
"Remember that it is imperative that for any potential risk of rabies, the first dose of rabies post-exposure prophylaxis must be administered as soon as possible after the bite – as time is of the essence when it comes to preventing the virus from attacking the nervous system.," Grobler says.
In cases where the child has been bitten with massive bleeding and extensive wounds, an emergency medical services provider, such as Netcare 911 or your nearest clinic or doctor, should be contacted immediately.
Share your stories and questions with us via email at email@example.com. Anonymous contributions are welcome.
Don't miss a story!
For a weekly wrap of our latest parenting news and advice sign up to our free Friday Parent24 newsletter.