Dr. Kristie on pit bulls and dog bites

Pit bulls. Rottweilers. Dobermans. The names alone strike fear into the hearts of many parents, who have heard one too many stories about young children being mauled. The recent news story of a little girl being asked to leave a fast food chain due to her disfiguring scars from a pit bull attack once again brought the issue of dog bites to the forefront. While this news story is being questioned for its authenticity, the larger concern exists.

Just last week, one of my final admissions to the hospital at the end of a long 12-hour shift was a spunky 5 year-old little girl who was attacked by her own family pet…a pit bull. A plastic surgeon was immediately called to the ER, and he spent the next several hours in the operating room, trying to repair her multiple facial lacerations that will surely leave a lifetime of physical and emotional scars.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, dog bites are a serious and underestimated medical and public health problem, particularly in children under the age of 10. Dog bites in young children most often occur on the face, head and neck, followed by the extremities. But it’s not just aesthetic problems that occur. Children often suffer from nightmares after a dog attack, and adult studies show that many reported a lifetime fear of dogs.

In general, the dog’s breed has been shown to be directly related to the severity of injuries. Pit bulls, German shepherds, Rottweilers, and Dobermans are the breeds that have been shown to attack the most. Studies show that the vast majority of the dogs who attack are familiar to the child. Interestingly, children were noted to interfere with the dog prior the attack in a majority of the cases, most often children under the age of 6.

With this knowledge, would I let my young children around pit bulls or any other breed of dog that has been known to frequently attack? Never. At the risk of offending those who own these dogs, I strongly feel that a parent’s top priority should be their child’s safety, and owning these breeds of dogs may put your child in danger. I have heard many people say, “Well, my [fill in the blank] wouldn’t hurt a fly.” The reality is, children move quickly, scream loudly, and are in general pretty unpredictable creatures. A large powerful dog may not even attack in anger, but just an attempt to play may cause serious harm. Even if it has never happened before, I wouldn’t wait for the first time.

But as we all know, nearly any breed can attack a child if provoked. Even my docile 20-pound West Highland terrier bit my rambunctious son who got a little too close to her food at dinnertime. If you are a dog owner, pay very close attention any time a child is around your dog, no matter what the breed. Teach your child how to keep themselves safe around dogs, and what to do in case they are being chased or attacked. If you own a breed that is prone to attack, keep your dog secured at all times around your child, but do not be lulled into a false sense of security that the child is safe. One study reported that over half of the dogs who attacked were either leashed, fenced, or in the house at the time of the injury. Constant supervision around dogs in general and avoiding those breeds that are known to attack will go a long way in keeping your child safe.

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About Dr. Kristie Rivers, Bundoo Pediatrician

Dr. Kristie Rivers is an Attending Physician, Assistant Medical Director of the Pediatric Hospitalist Program, and Director of Pediatric Medical Education at a children’s hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She cares for hospitalized children and also teaches pediatric residents and medical students.


  1. Thanks for the great post Dr. Kristie. I know the popular stance these days is to give dogs like pit bulls the benefit of the doubt (according to the posts I see in my social media feed), but like you say – any dog can bite a small child that they aren’t used to or who acts unpredictably (and don’t they all..). Whether it’s a golden retriever or a Doberman, I am very cautious and think all moms can use this reminder!


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