Breeds of Dogs Involved in Fatal Human Attacks in the United States Between 1979 and 1998

By Jeffrey J. Sacks, MD, MPH; Leslie Sinclair, DVM; Julie Gilchrist, Gail C. Golab, PhD, DVM and Randall Lockwood, PhD

A 2000 report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)1 reviewed a 20-year period to determine the types of dog breeds most responsible for U.S. dog bite fatalities.

Study highlights

  • During 1997 and 1998, at least 27 people died of dog bite attacks (18 in 1997 and 9 in 1998). At least 25 breeds of dogs have been involved in 238 human DBRF during the past 20 years. Pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers were involved in more than half of these deaths (122) 51%.
  • Data for human dog bite-related fatalities (DBRF) identified previously for the period of 1979 through 1996 were combined with human DBRF newly identified for 1997 and 1998. Human DBRF were identified by searching news accounts and by use of The Humane Society of the United States' registry databank.
  • During 1997 and 1998, at least 27 people died of dog bite attacks (18 in 1997 and 9 in 1998). At least 25 breeds of dogs were involved in 238 human dog bite related fatalities during the past 20 years. Pit bulls and rottweilers were involved in over half of these fatalities and from 1997 to 1998 were involved in 67%.
  • Despite these limitations and concerns, the data indicate that Rottweilers and pit bull-type dogs accounted for 67% of human DBRF in the United States between 1997 and 1998. It is extremely unlikely that they accounted for anywhere near 60% of dogs in the United States during that same period and, thus, there appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities.
  • During 1997 to 1998, fatal attacks were reported from 17 states; California 4; Georgia and North Carolina 3 each; Kansas, Texas, and Wisconsin 2 each; and Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, South Dakota, and Tennessee 1 each.
  • Of 227 reports with relevant data, 55 (24%) human deaths involved unrestrained dogs off their owners' property, 133 (58%) involved unrestrained dogs on their owners' property, 38 (17%) involved restrained dogs on their owners' property, and 1 (< 1%) involved a restrained dog off its owner's property.
  • Four hundred and three dogs contributed to these attacks. In 160 deaths, only 1 dog was involved; in 49 deaths, 2 dogs were involved; and in 15 deaths, 3 dogs. Four and 7 dogs were involved in 3 deaths each; 5, 6, and 10 dogs were involved in 2 deaths each; and 11 and 14 dogs were responsible for 1 death each.
Breeds of Dogs Involved in Fatal Human Attacks in the United States Between 1979 and 1998, by Sacks, Sinclair, Gilchrist, Golab and Lockwood, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2000
  1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have no recent dog bite fatality data by breed. Learn more: Nonprofits Urge CDC to Resume Tracking Richer Data Set for Children and Adults Disfigured, Maimed and Killed by Dogs.