Dog Bite Fatalities Surged in 2021; a 69% Increase from 2019
DogsBite.org - Last September, we published the 2020 Macro-Level Forces Report for U.S. dog bite fatality data. During 2020, the first Covid year, our nonprofit had a 15-victim deficit compared to CDC Wonder underlying cause of death (UCD) data, a 28% difference in the number of deaths. The victim deficit during the second pandemic year is even higher. CDC Wonder data shows there were 81 dog bite fatalities in 2021. Our nonprofit only recorded 52 deaths, a 44% difference.
81 fatal dog attacks in a single year are the most ever recorded by CDC data. This is a 69% increase from 2019 and a 131% increase from 2018.
Prior to these two pandemic years (between 2005 and 2019), the largest deficit of unreported deaths our nonprofit had compared to CDC data was 4 each for the years of 2005 and 2010. During the 2021 Covid year, there was a deficit of 29 unreported deaths. The disparity during the second year of the pandemic is greater than the first year, even though media reports only fell by 35% in 2021, compared to falling 47% in 2020 from the pre-Covid baseline year of 2019.
A regional breakdown of dog bite fatalities in 2021 shows that the South and West had the most unreported deaths. According to CDC data, 51% (41 of 81) of the victims in 2021 were ≥ 45 years old. Our nonprofit only captured 20 of these deaths, 49%. However, we already knew the 50 and older age group was underrepresented in media reports. We discussed this disparity in the 2020 discussion notes (Comparing 15-Year Data Sets - DogsBite.org Data and CDC Wonder Data)
Characteristics of Unreported Fatal Dog Attacks (2005 to 2021)
Over the last decade, we have uncovered 20 unreported deaths through FOIAs or other means. The most likely unreported fatal dog attack from 2005 to 2021 is an adult ≥ 40 years old (14) killed in an attack involving a single or pair of pit bulls (12 of 14) in an urban area (11 of 14) within a state that prohibits or limits breed-specific laws. Of the 20 total deaths, 80% (16) involved pit bulls, and of that, 75% (12 of 16) involved a single or pair of family pit bulls killing a household member.
80% (16) of the total unreported fatal attacks involved family dogs killing a household member, and 70% (14) involved a single dog attacking.
During 2021, the 2 unreported deaths we uncovered involved infants in a rural area. Both infants were killed by a male family dog, a pit bull, and an American bulldog. Of the 5 total unreported deaths of children, including the ones just mentioned, 3 were killed by pit bulls, and 2 were killed by American bulldogs. The only other unreported death -- outside of the 14 deaths in the ≥ 40 years age group -- is a 21-year old male who was killed by his roommate's pit bull in 2017.
Initially, the chart appears to reflect the pandemic kicked off a visible increase in year-to-year deaths. However, the largest increase is from 2018 to 2019, a 37% rise, which occurred pre-Covid. From 2019 to 2020, there was a 29% rise in deaths, and from 2020 to 2021, there was a 31% rise. The chart also shows that during the 37% rise in deaths from 2018 to 2019, our capture rate was not impeded. When Covid-19 macro-forces erupted in 2020, our capture rate declined.
The chart also shows that between 2005 and 2018, the average number of deaths per year captured by our nonprofit was 33.79, compared to CDC Wonder data of 33.64. The annual number of deaths during the period gradually increases but otherwise has slight variation. After two years of Covid conditions, between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021, the average number of deaths captured by our nonprofit rose to 49.5, and CDC Wonder data shot up to 71.5.
Thus, one must ask what happened between 2018 and 2021, when the number of deaths per year rose by 131% (from 35 CDC Wonder deaths to 81)? The number of dog bite fatalities increased during that period much faster than from 2005 to 2018. After years of annual deaths in the 30s range, CDC data skips deaths in the 50s range and skips deaths in the 70s range. CDC data shows that in 2019, there were 48 deaths; in 2020, 62 deaths; and in 2021, 81 deaths.
In our nonprofit's data, several trends were rising before 2019. Between 2005 to 2018, the ages and genders of victims between the first and third periods (2005-2009 and 2015-2018) show that the percentage of fatal dog attacks involving adults, 50-69 years old, rose 82%. This rise was largely driven by females, 30-49 years old, which rose 108%, and females, 50-69 years old, which rose 91%. During this same period, the percentage of fatal attacks involving pit bulls rose by 30%.
While the number of "known" rescue dogs involved in dog bite fatalities is relatively small, the percentage of people killed by rescue dogs jumped from 2% of fatal dog attack victims during the first period (2005-2009) to 14.7% during the third period (2015-2018). Owner-directed deadly dog attacks rose from 10% during the first period to 16.8% during the third period. Those were some trends heading into 2019, which began the steep ladder increase in CDC data from 2019 to 2021.
Covid 2021 Conditions
By mid-April 2021, over 200 million Covid vaccines had been administered in the U.S., according to the CDC. Stay-at-home orders were over, and indoor gatherings and air travel had rebounded. Possible Covid conditions contributing to the disparity of 29 unreported dog bite fatalities in 2021 aren't as straightforward as in 2020. Though there continued to be a reduction in media reports and a reduction of media releases from police, which impacted our ability to capture more deaths.1
During the 2021 Covid year, there was a 35% reduction in dog bite fatality media reports, according to our citations. There was a surge in unreported fatal dog attacks, 29 deaths, and a rise in the total number of fatalities to 81 -- the highest ever recorded in CDC wonder data. This is a 69% increase from 2019 and a 131% increase from 2018. Victims ≥ 45 years old accounted for the most unreported fatal dog attacks, and most attacks occurred in the South and West regions.
Given the increase of fatal dog attacks during pre-Covid 2019 and the surge that followed, we predict another rise in unreported deaths in 2022.
Though there was a significant increase in deaths during the 2020 and 2021 Covid years, the growth began ramping up in 2019. The largest increase occurred between 2018 and 2019, with a 37% rise in dog bite fatalities. What drove that growth likely continued through the Covid years, combined with being impacted by Covid conditions (2- and 3-fold increase in dog bites2). At the same time, our nonprofit's capture rate declined due to lowered media reports instigated by Covid.
2At least in pediatric studies. No studies about adult dog bite injuries during the pandemic have been published so far. | Dixon, et al., Dog Bites in Children Surge during Coronavirus Disease-2019: A Case for Enhanced Prevention, J Pediatr, 2020 Oct; 225: 231–232. | Tulloch et al., Paediatric emergency department dog bite attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic: an audit at a tertiary children’s hospital, BML Pediatrics Open, 2021;5:e001040.
09/23/22: 2020 Macro-Level Forces Report: Covid Impacts of Dog Bite Fatality Capture Rate
01/12/22: 2021 Fatal Dog Attack Breed Identification Photographs - DogsBite.org