Young, unsupervised children, scientists explain, are most at risk for dog bites. The attacks are usually from family pets and if they bite once, they will bite again with the second time often being more brutal than the first.
The study conducted by Vikram Durairaj of the University of Colorado School of Medicine revealed that dogs usually target a child's face and eyes and most often it's a breed considered good with children, like a Labrador retriever.
"We have seen facial fractures around the eye, eye lids torn off, injury to the tear drainage system and the eyeball itself," Durairaj said.
Some wounds are so severe that patients require multiple reconstructive surgeries.
Durairaj said dog bites are especially devastating to children because they are smaller and their faces are within easy reach of the animal's mouth. The likelihood of a child getting bitten in their lifetime is around 50 percent with 80 percent of those bites involving the head and neck.
The study of 537 children treated for facial dog bites found that 68 percent of bites occurred in children 5-years-old or younger with the highest incidence in 3-year-olds.
In the majority of cases, the child knew the dog through the family, a friend or a neighbor. And more than half the time, the dog was provoked when the child petted it too aggressively, startled or stepped on it.
Durairaj found that mixed breeds were responsible for 23 percent of bites followed by Labrador retrievers at 13.7 percent. Rottweilers launched attacks in 4.9 percent of cases, German shepherds 4.4 percent of the time and Golden retrievers 3 percent. The study was done in the Denver area where pit bulls are banned.
The author presented his study last month at the American Academy of Ophthalmology's annual meeting.