A barking German Shepherd is restrained on a leash

You are almost twice as likely to be bit by a dog if you live in the city compared to living in the country, and a majority of those bites will come from a dog off the leash, according to a new University of Guelph study.

Researchers with U of G’s Ontario Veterinary College surveyed more than 2,000 people divided evenly between rural and urban residences with the aim of contributing to municipal public health measures related to dog bite prevention.

While pet dogs are more common in rural households, dog bites are more of a city problem. Among households in rural areas, 6 per cent had at least one person bitten by a dog in the previous year, while urban households had nearly 11 per cent.

The Toronto Star covered the research, as did Global News, CTVNews.ca and several radio stations across the country.

Published in Zoonoses and Public Health, the study, conducted by OVC population medicine professor Jan Sargeant and epidemiology PhD student Danielle Julien, found a majority of the bites not only came from unleashed dogs, but a high percentage of the bites were from dogs that were not vaccinated against rabies.

Nearly 60 per cent of all bites came while playing with or interacting in other ways with the biting dog, while nearly 77 per cent of biting dogs were unleashed. Nearly 17 per cent of biting dogs were not vaccinated against rabies.

Prof. Jan Sargeant
Prof. Jan Sargeant

“In Ontario, dogs three months of age or older are legally required to be vaccinated against rabies,” said Sargeant. “These findings will not only help shape public health measures related to preventing dog bites, but also bring awareness to the need for the rabies vaccine.”

The finding that dog bites are more common in urban versus rural settings is important because it spurs further inquiries into what is driving it, added Sargeant.

“When you know these things, you can target messages more specifically. The more specifically you can target to people’s individual situation, the more likely it is to resonate with them and the more likely you are to affect some change.”

The research set out to determine the differences between urban and rural communities when it comes to numbers of dogs, dog ownership dynamics and human exposure to dog bites, said Julien.

“All are important considerations in the planning and implementation of public health strategies related to zoonotic disease awareness, prevention and control, and for the promotion of responsible dog ownership,” she said.

Human exposure to dog bites is an important and often serious public health issue, Julien added.

“Some of the more important concerns surrounding the issue of dog bites include the repercussions of physical and emotional trauma experienced by bite victims, and less commonly, though no less importantly, the potential risk of transmission of the fatal, yet vaccine-preventable zoonotic disease, rabies.”

Julien said the main transmitter of canine rabies to humans is domestics dogs.

“We wanted to gain a better understanding of rural and urban perspectives with regard to this important public health and One Health issue.”

Funding for this study was received from a Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Institute of Population and Public Health and Public Health Agency of Canada Applied Public Health Research Chair supporting Prof. Sargeant.


Prof. Jan Sargeant