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Anxiety 'increases dog bite risk'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
Dog baring teeth

2nd February 2018 – Each year in England more than 6,500 people need hospital treatment for dog bite injuries and being anxious may have increased their chances of being bitten.

A small observational survey carried out in Cheshire, and published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, claims when it comes to dog bites, a person's personality plays a part.

The researchers are suggesting that in future dog bite prevention schemes may need to concentrate on how different people behave when they are around dogs.


To try and get up to date figures about dog bites, 694 people in 385 households in a semi-rural town in Cheshire were surveyed.

They were asked if they owned a dog, had ever been bitten by a dog, if the bite needed treatment, and if they knew the dog that had bitten them.

The researchers also assessed whether certain personality traits might have a bearing on the risk of being bitten. They used the Ten Item Personality Inventory (TIPI) which measures things like anxiety, enthusiasm, and emotional stability (neuroticism).

New findings

The researchers from the University of Liverpool found:

  • Personality plays a part. The more anxious a person is the more likely they are to be bitten. The survey showed the more emotionally stable and less neurotic an individual was, the lower their risk of being bitten by a dog.
  • The number of bites may be nearly three times higher than hospital records indicate. Official hospital records show the rate of dog bites is 740 per 100,000 of the population, but the survey responses indicate a rate of 1873 per 100,000.
  • 1 in 3 dog bites (33%) required treatment, but only a small proportion (0.6%) required hospital treatment, although the researchers say even minor bites can cause significant emotional distress.
  • Men were 1.6 time more likely to have been bitten than women.
  • People who owned several dogs were more than 3 times as likely to have been bitten as those who didn’t own dogs.
  • More than half of those bitten (just under 55%) said they had been bitten by a dog they didn’t know.


No firm conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn from the survey because it is observational. Also, it didn't look at the age, sex or breed of the biting dog. The researchers also acknowledge only households in one county in England were included so the findings may not apply to the rest of the UK.

However, they think it is essential that previously assumed risk factors, such as bites typically being from familiar dogs, are reassessed and suggest dog bite prevention schemes may need to look at human behaviours around dogs by different personality types.

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