For All Their Plusses, Pets Pose a Risk for Falls, Too

Being pulled by a dog or chasing a cat causes many tumbles, CDC reports

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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 26 (HealthDay News) -- Dogs and cats may be favored companions of many Americans, but they're also apparently the cause of falls that results in thousands of injuries each year.

U.S. health officials report that 86,629 people annually are injured in dog- and cat-related falls. That's 240 people a day who wind up in hospital emergency rooms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I get asked a lot if pets are a fall hazard," said Judy Stevens, a senior epidemiologist at the CDC and first author of the report. "We found that of the 8 million falls from all causes, about 1 percent were related to cats and dogs."

Acknowledging that pets provide benefits, too, Stevens said that the CDC wanted to make people aware that they can be a fall hazard, and the benefits need to be balanced with these risks.

Pets have been linked in several studies to a variety of health benefits, including help in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reducing feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety and increasing opportunities for socializing.

In 2006, an estimated 43 million U.S. households included dogs, and 37.5 million households had cats. In addition, almost 64 percent of households with pets had more than one pet, according to the report, published in the March 27 issue of the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

For the study, Stevens and her colleagues collected data on falls from 66 emergency departments across the country from 2001 to 2006. Dogs accounted for 88 percent of the injuries from falls and cats for nearly all of the rest.

Among people injured by dogs, 31 percent tripped over the dog, and 21 percent fell after being pushed or pulled by a dog. Among injuries involving cats, 66 percent were attributed to falling or tripping over the animal.

Women were twice as likely to be injured as men. Those most often injured were either younger than 14 years or between 35 and 54 years old, the researchers found. However, the highest rate of fractures occurred in people 75 to 85 years old. Of people who required hospitalization from a pet-related injury, about 80 percent had a broken bone.

Most falls involving dogs, 62 percent, occurred at home; 16 percent happened in a street or a park. Pet paraphernalia was cited as the cause of about 9 percent of the falls at home.

As for cats, 86 percent of falls involving felines happened in the home, 17 percent of them while chasing the cat.

One way to reduce the risk for dog-related falls, Stevens said, would be to enroll a dog in obedience training, which should be able to stop, or at least lessen, the animal's pushing, pulling and jumping.

"You can also prevent falls by removing tripping hazards like pet items," she said.

Colin Milner, chief executive of the International Council on Active Aging, said that keeping fit as you age should also help reduce the likelihood of falls.

People need to keep their homes clean and uncluttered, he said. And, when picking a pet, Milner suggested trying to match the pet to your personality and, perhaps, choosing a more mellow rather than a more excitable pet.

One reason people fall is that they become less coordinated as they age, Milner said. "Many of these fall could be preventable if you had better balance," he said. "The number of falls could be reduced with a very simple balance and strength-training program."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have more on preventing injury.

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