Walking dogs is one reason for common injuries seen in ERs

Broken fingers, shoulder sprains, and head injuries are common reasons people visit the emergency room. Now, a new investigation has identified a possible culprit: the family dog.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that over a period of nearly two decades, more than 422,000 American adults were treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained while walking dogs on leashes. Women and people aged 40 to 64 years made up the majority of patients.

“Dog walking is associated with a significant and increasing burden of injury, and dog owners should be informed of this potential for injury and counseled on risk reduction strategies,” said Ridge Maxson, first author of the study and a medical student at the Johns Hopkins University School. of Medicine.

The number of injuries increased from 2001 to 2020, according to data analyzed by the researchers.

The idea for the study arose from the experiences of the lead author edward macfarlandfrom the clinic, Maxson said. McFarland, a professor of shoulder and elbow surgery and orthopedic surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has treated many patients with shoulder injuries as a result of dog walking and wanted to see what data was available on this.

Finger fractures, traumatic brain injuries, and shoulder sprains and strains were the three most diagnosed injuries. in ERDs caused by dogs walking on leashes between 2001 and 2020, the study showed. The study cited the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Michael Levine, an associate professor of emergency medicine at UCLA, said the recent findings are consistent with what you see in the ER.

Those injuries occur when dog walkers have the leash wrapped around their fingers or wrist and the dog lunges, said Levine, who was not involved in the study. It can cause tendon injuries, broken bones (in fingers, arms or hips) and head injuries, he said.

“It happens every day or two that we see someone in the emergency department who got hurt walking their dog,” he said. “But it’s by no means the vast majority of patients that we’re seeing.”

More than 24 million unintentional injuries were observed in emergency departments in the United States in 2020, the most recent year for which figures are available. according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The traumatic brain injuries identified in the study ranged from concussions to non-concussive internal brain injuries, such as brain contusions and brain hemorrhages.

Women and older adults were at higher risk for more serious injuries, and those over 65 were 60 percent more likely to have a brain injury, Maxson said.

More Dog Walking Injuries Seen in ERs

The number of injuries caused by dog ​​walking more than quadrupled during the study period, with about 7,200 in 2001 and about 32,000 in 2020, according to the study.

Levine said he doesn’t know why the data showed these injuries occur more frequently; he hasn’t seen that in his ER. But there are some theories.

Pet ownership has increased in recent years, according to data showsand bone fractures among older adults have been on the rise from dog walking as older adults have tried to stay active, previously Research has shown.

At the same time, Levine said, hospitals have begun to get more specific with diagnosis coding.

“So it’s not necessarily that there’s necessarily a true increase in the frequency of, say, a wrist fracture,” but the diagnoses are simply more accurate, such as a wrist fracture due to contact with a dog, making cases are easier to identify. he said.

Karen B. London, a professional dog trainer and applied animal behavior specialist, said she has clients who have been pulled over by their dogs and suffered injuries such as broken fingers and dislocated shoulders.

How to make walking your dog on a leash safer

People, particularly older adults, should take precautions when walking their dogs, especially large dogs, said London, a assistant teacher in biological sciences from Northern Arizona University. She suggest:

  • Use front-attach harnesses to help prevent the dog from pulling.
  • Choose shorter leashes, 6 to 8 feet long, to avoid tripping over them.
  • Stay away from retractable leashes, which can injure both dogs and their owners.
  • Avoid places where a dog is known to be distracted, such as the schoolyard.
  • Bring along a squeaky toy or treats to help the dog regain focus when distractions occur.

“But I really think the most important thing you can do is train,” he said. “Teaching a dog to walk well on a leash is really helpful.”

The findings shouldn’t make older adults ashamed of owning a dog, London said.

She recommends that people balance the costs and benefits of owning a dog and find ways to mitigate the risks. For example, older people can have someone else accompany them on dog walks, or choose a smaller dog, so “there isn’t a mismatch in strength,” she said.

“I hope that in my golden years, someone doesn’t say, ‘Oh, I don’t know if a dog is good for you,’” London said. “In fact, that might be the best thing for me.”

Sign up for the Well+Being newsletter, your source for expert advice and simple tips to help you live well every day.