Pets and Falls
Pets can be great companions, but pets can sometimes pull, bump, or get underfoot and cause falls. A survey in the United States found that 30 dog- or cat-related falls occur per 100,000 people per year. In this survey, almost 90 percent of injuries were caused by pet dogs rather than cats. A study in the journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention investigated dog-related injuries that resulted in emergency department visits. Over a 2-month period, 37 people visited the emergency department for a dog-related injury, mainly broken bones and soft tissue injuries. About half of the injuries affected the leg or ankle and half affected the arm or hand. In most cases, broken bones occurred in older individuals, while younger adults had soft tissue injuries. Here were the most common injuries:
- 12 people tripped or slipped while dog walking
- 9 people were pulled over while walking their dog on a leash
- 6 were knocked over by a dog
- 5 tripped or fell over the dog
Other injuries occurred from chasing a dog, falling into holes in the yard dug by the dog, falling over or getting the hand caught in a collar while putting on the dog’s leash, and breaking up a dog fight. Information was not available to determine if dog size or breed was linked with increased injury risk. In general, seniors had the most injuries and were most likely to suffer from a broken bone and require an overnight stay in the hospital than younger adults.
This study suggests these recommendations to help reduce pet-related falls:
- Fall risk should be considered, especially in elderly individuals, before bringing a pet into a home. This is true for adding a pet to someone’s home and bringing pets when visiting friends and relatives
- Seniors should avoid walking the dog on uneven or slippery ground
- Dog obedience should include a focus on appropriate leash behavior, reducing jumping, etc.
- Dogs should be trained and regularly exercised to reduce destructive behavior, like digging, and excess energy displays that might precipitate falls
- Older dogs may be better choices for people at higher risk for falls since they are less active and more predictable
- Consideration should be given for small dogs and cats potentially getting underfoot and precipitating falls, especially for seniors
These recommendations can help guide you when you’re deciding if it’s safe to bring a pet to visit a senior or safe for someone to have their own pet. Bringing friendly pets for visits can be appreciated, but the pet must be well-trained and under the owner’s control during the visit.