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Hospital Admissions, ED Visits for Dog Bites Surge

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, December 2, 2010

America's canine companions are taking a bone-jangling bite out of the nation's healthcare resources.

The number of dog bites requiring hospitalization increased 86% between 1993 and 2008, and the cost of those hospitalizations—on average $18,500—was 50% higher than the average cost of hospital stays for other injuries.

Data from the Agency for Health Research and Quality shows that those figures translate to 316,000 emergency room visits involving a dog bite, or 103.9 visits per 100,000 population. For every 100 patients presenting to the emergency department with a dog bite, 2.5% required admission, a lower rate than the 8% of all injured people who visit a hospital emergency room.

Anne Elixhauser, author of the report, says the reasons for the surge are unclear. Pet ownership has gone up in those 16 years, but not nearly as much as hospitalizations or emergency room visits for dog bites. Likewise, the increase in the general population, which rose at a slower rate.

In an e-mail, Elixhauser points to an Insurance Information Institute chart  showing an increase in the average cost of insurance claims paid for dog bites, from $19,162 in 2003 to $24,840 in 2009, a 29.6% jump.

The AHRQ report goes into more detail on who ended up in a hospital because of a dog bite in 2008 and who paid for that care.

Males were more likely than females to seek medical attention because of a dog bite, and children younger than 18 years of age constituted the largest group of patients, 38%. In contrast, 27% of all injury-related ED encounters involved this age group.

With respect to age, the pattern for emergency department visits as a whole was different than for that for hospitalization. The rate of dog bite-related hospitalizations was highest for patients ages 65-84, and was lowest for those from 15-17.  However, rates of dog bites resulting in a trip to the emergency room, not necessarily requiring admission, was highest for children between the ages of 5 to 9 and lowest for the elderly over age 85.

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