picture of angry, growling dog

This Version Posted: October 8, 2020


– Health Unit Urges Caution to Reduce The Risk of Animal Bites, Especially Among Children –


Even with more people staying home and limiting travel during the pandemic, 2020 is shaping up to be another bad year for animal bites in the region.

From January to August 2020, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit has investigated 433 animal bite incidents in Haliburton County, Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes. With just under four months left on the 2020 calendar, the Health Unit is on pace to surpass more than 600 animal bites investigations for the second straight year.

In 2019, the Health Unit recorded a total of 672 animal bites in its region – the highest total in five years.

“Over the past year and a half, we have seen a marked increase in animal bite incidents – and the reason may be staring us right in the face,” says Richard Ovcharovich, Manager of Health Protection with the HKPR District Health Unit. “Over the past several years, the vast majority of the Health Unit’s animal bite investigations have involved pets or domestic animals.”

While this fact may seem surprising, it shouldn’t be, he adds. “If we spend more time around our pets and domestic animals than we do with those in the wild, this leaves us and our loved ones with a higher risk of bites, scratches and rabies exposure from animals that are literally near and dear to us,” Ovcharovich notes.

To address the rise in local animal bites, the Health Unit is launching a multi-media Keep Bites at Bay campaign that aims to remind parents and pet owners to be responsible and extra careful, especially when children are around pets or other domestic animals.

“Never leave young children alone with an animal, even if it’s a pet. Children may not know better and start to rile or incite even friendly animals to act out and attack,” Ovcharovich says. “In a matter of seconds, an animal can bite, scratch or attack a person leading to severe, long-lasting physical and emotional trauma.”

The risk of rabies exposure is also real. Rabies is a serious disease caused by a virus. It is fatal if left untreated.

Through the campaign, the Health Unit is encouraging parents to teach children how to safely act and behave towards their own pets and other domestic animals. These lessons include: being kind and gentle, staying calm and never yelling or screaming. If an animal is growling or showing any aggression, children should be taught to back away slowly to gain distance from it and avoid direct eye contact. Never turn around and run.

Pet owners should also be responsible by making sure their animals are leashed, under control, and discouraged from running free unless they are in a designated dog park. Owners should also pay close attention if children are nearby. Owners also need to regularly get their pets vaccinated for rabies.

The Health Unit must be notified any time an animal bites or scratches a person. Public Health Inspectors investigate each incident to determine if there is a risk of rabies to the victim. If a domestic animal is involved, it is quarantined for 10 days to confirm that it was not sick with rabies when it bit or scratched the person. The Health Unit provides rabies vaccine for a person, if deemed necessary by a health care provider.

If a bite occurs, Ovcharovich encourages people to get the pet owner’s contact information. If possible, take a picture of the animal or remember specific features (like markings, collar with tags). This assists the Health Unit in its follow-up investigation to ensure the correct animal is identified. To learn more, call the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577, ext. 5006, or visit www.hkpr.on.ca.

For media inquiries, contact:

Richard Ovcharovich, Manager, Health Protection, HKPR District Health Unit, 1-866-888-4577, ext. 2222.