SIKESTON -- Whether "Friendly Fido" or "Aggressive Brutus," all dogs are capable of turning on their best friends at some point in time.
"Anything can spark off a dog bite," said Ken Fowler, code enforcement/animal control officer for the City of Sikeston. "I have people tell me, 'Oh, my dog won't bite,' but there's not a dog out there that won't bite."
Last month four dog bite incidents were reported in the city of Sikeston with the most recent attack occurring last week, according to Fowler. That number is about normal for this time of year, and of course it will decrease once children go back to school, Fowler said.
Each year, 4.7 million people a year are bitten and 800,000 seek medical attention for dog bites; half of these are children. Of those injured, 386,000 require treatment in an emergency room and about a dozen die, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
No deaths or maulings related to dog attacks have occurred in Sikeston. And there are no specific ages, reasons or breeds of dogs causing the attacks, Fowler said.
"Our most recent case was with an Australian shepherd, and prior to that it was a Siberian husky," Fowler recalled.
Fowler said a dog bite is considered a bite "any time the skin is broken."
The rate of dog bite-related injuries is highest for children ages 5 to 9 years, and the rate decreases as children age, CDC reports. Almost two thirds of injuries among children ages 4 and younger are to the head or neck region. Injury rates in children are significantly higher for boys than for girls.
But dog bites are a largely preventable public health problem, and adults and children can learn to reduce their chances of being bitten.
"Before getting a dog, owners should carefully consider the pet selection," advised veterinarian Kelly Smith of Sikeston. "The biggest thing to consider is whether you have children and the environment the dog will be living in."
Although owners should always consult with their veterinarian before getting a dog, the choice is basically up to the owner's preference, Smith said.
Genetics can play a part in determining whether a dog will bite or not. Certain breeds like German shepherds, pitbulls, rottweilers are known to be more aggressive, but smaller dogs can also bite, Smith pointed out.
"Chihuahuas are known for biting, but they're not in the news much," Smith noted.
Also certain breeds have to have homeowner's insurance, Smith pointed out.
Another important thing to consider is to socialize the dog.
"If you are an animal owner, one of best things to do is have some type of dog training for your dog. It can be rather expensive, but in the long run it's worth it. The dog will be attached to you by your commands. It builds better relationships and socialization of the animal to everything and everyone," Fowler explained.
Owners should also watch for signs of a dog's health, too. "A dog that's in pain is more likely to bite," Smith pointed out. "In older dogs, if it's painful when getting up and down or if they're lying and resting, you don't want to disturb them."
Smith also reminded owners to keep dogs updated on their vaccinations and spay or neuter them to reduce aggressive tendencies.
If a person is bitten by a dog, the No. 1 thing to do is contact the personal physician and go by the recommendation of that treatment. They should also contact the Sikeston Department of Public Safety or their local law enforcement agency.
Often times treatment will result in a tetanus shot and in rare cases, a series of rabies treatment.
"We've only had three or four people (over the past 12 years) who have actually gone through the rabies series and that was just as a precaution," said Fowler.
Unless animal control can prove otherwise, they have to treat each dog as an unvaccinated stray dog. If vaccinations are unknown, the dog is pinned up for 10 days and monitored for signs of rabies.
Nurse Brian Wilcox said he sees quite a few cases of not only dog bites, but other animal bites working in the emergency room at Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston.
"The main thing to do is basic first aid," Wilcox said. "Clean the wound as good as possible with soap and water put a dressing on it. Often times victims are administered a tetanus shot."
Some of the younger kids will laugh off a minor bite, but for others, being bitten by a dog is a scary experience, Fowler said.
"When it comes down to it, everyone who is bitten is traumatized," Fowler said.
Fowler also offered these tips: leave strays alone and don't aggravate them; don't run from dogs -- stand still, and it will normally smell you and walk away; don't stare dogs directly in the eye; and never leave children alone with dogs.
"All dogs can bite if provoked," Smith said. "And responsible dog ownership is the key to prevention."