Walking your furry friend is a daily activity that many pet owners enjoy, but a new study has found that dog walking is associated with a considerable and rising injury burden.
The research, conducted by Johns Hopkins University, found that over a period of nearly two decades, more than 422,000 U.S. adults were treated in emergency rooms for injuries suffered while walking leashed dogs. The number of injuries increased from 2001 to 2020.
According to the first author of the study, Ridge Maxson from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “Dog walking is associated with a considerable and rising injury burden, and dog owners should be informed of this injury potential and advised on risk-reduction strategies.”
This study arose from the author’s experience in the clinic of Edward McFarland, a professor of shoulder and elbow surgery and orthopedic surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. McFarland treated a good number of patients with shoulder injuries resulting from dog walking, inspiring them to look further into the numbers of people with the same concern.
Significant Findings Show Dog-Walking Injuries Are More Common than You Think
The study showed finger fractures, traumatic brain injuries, shoulder sprains, and strains were the three most-diagnosed injuries in ERs caused by walking dogs with leashes from 2001 to 2020.
Women and people aged 40 to 64 made up most of the patients, and older adults were at an increased risk for more serious injuries, with those older than 65 being about 60 percent more likely to have a brain injury.
Such injuries occur when dog walkers have the leash wrapped around their fingers or wrist and the dog lunges, resulting in tendon injuries, bone fractures, and head injuries.
Furthermore, women and older adults were at an increased risk for more serious injuries, with the latter being about 60 percent more likely to have a brain injury.
However, it is also important to note that injuries from dog walking are still not the concern of the vast majority of patients seen in emergency rooms. In data gathered from 2020, concussions to non-concussive internal head injuries — such as brain contusions and brain bleeds — from all sorts of causes are still the leading complaints in emergency departments.
Make Leashed Dog Walking Safer
Pet ownership has been increasing in recent years, and bone fractures among older adults have been on the rise from dog walking as older adults have tried to stay active, previous research has shown. Hospitals have also started being more specific with diagnostic coding, making the cases easier to identify.
To help mitigate the risk of injury, Karen B. London, a professional dog trainer, and applied animal behaviorist, suggests the following simple changes:
- Training dogs to walk on a leash properly
- Buying leashes six to eight feet long to avoid tripping
- Purchasing front-attaching harnesses
- Avoiding retractable leashes
- Staying away from places that distract dogs
- Giving your dog treats or squeaky toys to maintain their attention
“The findings should not cause older adults to shy away from dog ownership,” says London. She recommends that people balance the costs and benefits of dog ownership and find ways to mitigate risks. For instance, older people can have another person accompany them on dog walks or choose a smaller dog, so “there’s not a mismatch in strength.”
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