Restricted dog breeds should be banned in Ireland, says leading plastic surgeon

A leading plastic surgeon doesn’t believe restricted dog breeds should be available in Ireland.

Professor Jack Kelly has first-hand experience of repairing devastating injuries to patients in the operating theatre in the aftermath of attacks by these powerful breeds.

Along with the physical scars, the president of the Irish Association of Plastic Surgeons says psychological trauma from canine attacks can be lasting.

“No plastic surgeon in this country would think it’s a good idea to have restricted breeds of dogs available to the public here,” he said.

“I think most plastic surgeons who see the results of severe dog bites would not recommend that anyone own a restricted breed because of the potential damage they could inflict on young children.”

The CSO reported last week there were three deaths due to being bitten or struck by a dog between 2015 and 2021. Limerick woman Nicole Morey tragically lost her life after being attacked by her pet dogs in recent weeks.

The HSE has also revealed there were 343 emergency inpatient discharges from acute hospitals due to dog bites last year; this compares to 289 in 2013.

Prof Kelly says the powerful jaws of restricted breeds can cause horrific facial injuries.

“I’ve seen people missing pieces of their lip, missing pieces of their ear, missing pieces of their nose. With most bites they just cut the skin, but the restricted breed tends to bite parts of the flesh away as well as the bite itself.”

The victims he has encountered have been left “severely scarred”.

“Those restricted breeds are very powerful animals, and they can cause a lot of soft tissue damage.

“Thankfully, I’ve only seen a few over the years but they tend to be very, very destructive. Certainly, those breeds can cause an awful lot of damage, especially in children.”

Unlike Britain, no dog breed is banned in Ireland but a number of breeds, including XL bully dogs, are restricted.

Psychological trauma is often the unseen consequence of the attack and can last a lifetime.

“I see people come in with scars years later, and just looking at the scars would bring back the memory of the dog attack. The scar is there forever as a constant reminder of what happened,” said Prof Kelly.

“They’re psychologically as well as physically damaged. A lot of people develop post-traumatic stress disorder after a bad dog bite, and certainly will take a long time to adjust.

“The whole psychological recovery, as well as the physical recovery, can be problematic for lots of people.”

A particularly concerning aspect of dog bites for plastic surgeons is the tendency to attack the faces of children.

“It usually ends up with permanent scarring on the face, and a lot of effort to try to reduce the scarring at the time of surgery, and then ongoing care and follow-up, and then multiple revision operations later on for the scars,” said Prof Kelly.

“It has a big effect long-term on kids. We would see quite a number of dog bites on the face, certainly in young children, especially this time of the year for some reason. Kids are off school and they’re playing with their pets.”​

Prof Kelly urged parents not to delay getting bites treated as there are increasing rates of infection in the bite area due to late presentation for medical attention.

“There is an increase in the rate of all soft tissue infections across the board,” he said.

“We’re seeing a lot of children and adults admitted for treatment for dog bite-related infections. It’s an issue for us as a specialty because we treat dog bites, but you get the infective side of it as well.

“If there is delayed presentation, the child will present with severe infection as well as the dog bite. Then you would have to open the wound and wash it all out, and then it would mean multiple operations to clean it.

“That then leads to ongoing care inside the hospital. So it’s not simply the dog bite, it’s what happens in around the dog bite that becomes important.”

He said studies are examining the link between the timing of a dog’s meal and bite incidence.

“There are papers that show if a dog has eaten within six hours and then bites somebody, that the bacterial load in the mouth is a lot higher.

“If the dog has just eaten and then bites somebody, it is much more likely to become infected. They don’t tend to bite if they’ve been fed, they tend to be placid but there are papers looking at that.”

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