We have a small dog in our house. She came to us from Mrs. R.’s elderly mother, who had decided that a dog would be a good companion. She lived alone in the city. She also had low vision, and within weeks she had already fallen over the frisky little pup who was constantly under foot. As a public health measure, we took the pooch, although we already had a dog of our own. That was seven years ago and Rosie remains a beloved member of the family. She discovered we were easily trainable, so that part went fine (for her). Now CDC has published a report verifying that the circumstances that brought Rosie into our household were far from unusual:
In 2006, persons in approximately 43 million U.S. households owned dogs, and persons in 37.5 million households owned cats; nearly 64% of households with pets had more than one pet. With the exception of one small study, falls associated with pets have not been addressed previously in the scientific literature. This report provides the first national estimates of fall injuries associated with cats and dogs and supports anecdotal evidence that pets present a fall hazard. The findings indicate that, in 2006, cats and dogs were associated with approximately 1% of the estimated 8 million fall injuries treated in EDs [Emergency Departments] and affected persons of all ages. (CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports)
If you think about it, it’s not obvious how you would estimate the number of falls caused by pets. CDC used a Consumer Product Safety Commission electronic injury surveillance system attached to representative hospital emergency departments (EDs) around the country. When an injured person first presents to one of these 66 EDs, information on their most severe injury is taken from the medical records, along with the patient’s age, sex, location of injury and other case specific data. This produces a large electronic database which the researchers from CDC searched for any coded as an animal-inuced injury or had “pet,” “dog,” “cat,” “puppy,” or “kitten” mentioned in the narrative write-up portion of the record. After excluding non-relevant cases (e.g., injury caused by falling on a doghouse), they had a list of dog and cat related falls that were seen in these 66 EDs between 2001 and 2006. By knowing something about how representative the ED was, they were then able to make an estimate (a well informed guess) about how many dog/cat related falls occur yearly in the US. The result was a surprising 86,000, more or less. This number isn’t exact. But it isn’t 860,000 or 8,600 or 86. It gives us a good idea of the order of magnitude, and it isn’t small.
It’s not too surprising that most injuries were from dogs (sorry, Rosie), not cats. Injury rates increased with age for both cats and dogs, especially after age 64. But with each age category, the ratio of dogs to cats decreased with age. Again, this makes sense, as the youngest are most easily pulled or knocked over by a dog while the oldest (over 85 in this sample) are more likely to lose their balance while chasing or trying to avoid stepping on a cat. Most pet related injuries were in or very near the home, most frequently falling or tripping over a dog while walking it. For cats, the most frequent circumstance was falling while chasing a cat, usually within the home.
All of this makes sense, of course. But injury programs concerned with falls (a major public health problem) rarely, if ever, discuss pet-related causes, concentrating instead on rugs, host characteristics like balance or stair design. Dog related injury is usually confined to bites. The idea that almost 100,000 people are being seen yearly in emergency rooms from falls associated with pets is interesting, at the very least. Someone where I work has suffered two separate compound fractures, each requiring surgery, from a pet related fall or hazard. It isn’t at all rare.
Meanwhile Rosie seems unconcerned about the potential hazard she represents. I guess she figures Mrs. R. and I have voluntarily assumed the risk and she can’t be blamed. I hope she has a good lawyer.