DENVER, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say young children are most at risk for dog bites, usually from a family pet, and that if a dog bites once, it's likely to bite again.
The study by of the University of Colorado School of Medicine found that dogs usually target a child's face and eyes, and most often it's a breed considered `good' with children, such as a Labrador retriever, a university release said.
"People tend to think the family dog is harmless, but it's not," said Vikram Durairaj, associate professor of ophthalmology and otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, said. "We have seen facial fractures around the eye, eye lids torn off, injury to the tear drainage system and the eyeball itself."
Dog bites are especially devastating to children because they are smaller and their faces are within easy reach of the animal's mouth, Durairaj said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dogs bite about 4.5 million people each year and 885,000 require medical attention.
Durairaj looked at 537 children treated for facial dog bites at The Children's Hospital on the University of Colorado's campus between 2003 and 2008.
In the majority of cases, the child knew the dog through the family, a friend or a neighbor, he found.
And more than half the time, the dog was provoked when the child petted it too aggressively, startled or stepped on it, he said.
"What is clear from our data is that virtually any breed of dog can bite," Durairaj said. "The tendency of a dog to bite is related to heredity, early experience, later socialization and training, health and victim behavior."