April 23, 2010 -- Taking your faithful petdog for a stroll may be good for cardiovascular health, but it can also be dangerous. According to a CDC report, many people get hurt every year when chasing or tripping over their pets -- cats as well as dogs.
The study, published in the Journal of Safety Research, shows that dogs and cats contribute to injuries that send an estimated 87,000 people to emergency rooms every year.
The study also shows that:
- Dogs are more dangerous to their owners than cats, associated with 7.5 times as many injuries as felines.
- Women are 2.1 times more likely to be injured by pets than men.
- Injury rates are highest among people age 75 and over, but pets are a hazard for people of all ages.
- Fractures and contusions or abrasions are the most common pet-related injuries.
- 66.4% of falls associated with cats and 31.3% associated with dogs are caused by falling or tripping over the animal.
- 21.2% of falls linked to dogs were caused by being pushed or pulled.
The statistics come from a study of nonfatal injuries in the U.S. that examined 66 emergency departments between Jan. 1, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2006.
Falls and ER visits suggest the need for more pet-obedience training for dogs, but basic prevention strategies should be implemented to help people reduce their risk of injury when walking Rover or reaching for the cat, says Judy A. Stevens, PhD, a senior epidemiologist for the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
The researchers identified 7,456 cases of pet-caused ER visits, and estimated an average of 86,629 fall injuries associated with cats and dogs occur in the U.S. every year.
The researchers found that:
- Injuries are most frequent among children up to age 14, and adults between 35 and 54.
- Fall rates increase steadily with age, after people get past the 15-24 age group.
- The highest fracture rates occur among people 75 to 84.
- Among patients hospitalized due to accidents with their pets, 79.9% were for fractures.
- Injuries to extremities accounted for 51.8% of injuries with dogs and 47.6% with cats.
- Among falls caused by dogs, 61.6% occurred in or around the home, and 16.4% in the street or another public place.
- 26% of falls involving dogs occurred while people were walking them, and the most frequent circumstances were falling or tripping over a pooch (31.3%) and being pushed or pulled by one (21.2%).
- 8.8% of injuries were caused by people falling over a pet toy or food bowl.
"The report provides the first national estimates of fall injuries associated with cats and dogs and supports anecdotal evidence that pets can present a fall hazard," the researchers write. The study also shows that walking dogs and chasing pets cause the greatest number of injuries.
Comparing Cats and Dogs
Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, MD, an Atlanta internist and past president of the American College of Physicians, tells WebMD she sees pet-caused injuries quite often.
Dogs, she says, cause more problems to her patients than cats.
"I tell patents to be careful, make sure you walk the dog, not let the dog walk you," she says. "People of all ages can fall and skin knees or hands, but older patients are more likely to have weaker bones due to osteoporosis and suffer fracture if they fall."
Gail Hayes, a spokeswoman for the CDC Injury Center, says dogs may cause more problems when being walked simply because of their size.
"About 19,834 falls resulting in injuries each year happened while people were walking dogs, whereas a very small number of such falls happened while people were walking cats," Hayes tells WebMD in an email. "About 16,137 falls each year happened as a result of being pushed or pulled by dogs," compared to 91 for cats.
Stevens and colleagues caution that the number of pet-related injuries is likely higher than the 87,000 estimated in the study, because many people do not seek help in emergency departments.
The problem isn't insignificant, the researchers say, because 43 million American households own dogs and 37.5 million cats. And nearly 64% of households have more than one pet.
The report also details causes of injuries involving pets, reporting that:
- 19,834 injuries involving emergency room visits occur when people are walking dogs, compared to 40 for that reason for cats.
- 3,373 occur while people are playing with dogs, compared to 232 for cats.
- 3,779 occur while people are chasing dogs, and 1,182 while chasing cats.
- 449 occur when people are breaking up a fight involving a dog, compared to 18 for cats.
- 23,886 occur with people falling or tripping over a dog, compared to 6,727 with cats.