Dog Walkers Are Ending Up in the ER in Droves

Dog Walkers Are Ending Up in the ER in Droves

By Jenn Gidman

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but they’re also unintentionally sending a lot of their humans to the ER. That’s the upshot of a new study out of Johns Hopkins, where scientists discovered that, over the past 20 years or so, more than 422,000 people in the US have made an emergency room visit after walking their dogs, reports the Washington Post. Per research published last month in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, “dog walking is associated with a considerable and rising injury burden,” with shoulder sprains, broken fingers, and head injuries popping up as the most common injuries after walking leashed dogs.

The number of injuries logged from 2001 to 2020 also increased over time: There were about 7,200 injuries seen during the first year of the study, a number that more than quadrupled to 32,000 by study’s end. Women and individuals ages 40 to 64 made up the majority of the cases. The scientists used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which falls under the Consumer Product Safety Commission, to conduct their analysis. As for why the numbers have been rising, theories tie the spike to the rise in dog ownership—especially during the pandemic—as well as to the fact that more older adults are trying to stay in shape by taking Fido for a stroll.

“Clinicians should be aware of these risks and convey them to patients, especially women and older adults,” orthopedic surgeon Edward McFarland, the study’s lead author, says in a release. He adds, however, that “we also strongly encourage people to leash their dogs wherever it is legally required.” Northern Arizona University biological sciences professor Karen London, a professional dog trainer, also stresses that older people shouldn’t necessarily shy away from getting a dog due to the study’s findings. Instead, she advises to weigh the pros and cons and then mitigate the risks.

“I hope in my golden years, someone doesn’t say, ‘Oh, I don’t know if a dog is good for you,'” London tells the Post. “In fact, that might be the best thing for me.” London recommends such safety tips as using shorter leashes that you’re less likely to trip on, using front-attaching harnesses to help keep your pooch from pulling, and carrying a squeaky toy to help center your dog if he gets distracted during a walk.

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