Introduction Preventing dog bites is an intractable problem given the complex dog bite injury environment. Desexing of dogs has the opportunity of creating a safer injury environment, given the potential links between desexing and behaviour change in dogs.
Methods A systematic review of the literature was conducted to examine the evidence for desexing of dogs to reduce dog bite risk within a population health paradigm. Medline and CAB Abstracts were searched for studies that reported data on the association of dog neuter status with the risk of dog bite. All definitions of dog bite were included and all empirical studies were included in the review, limited to those published in English. Quality appraisal and data extraction were based on the 2013 evidence-based practice and critical appraisal tool from the University of Auckland.
Results Five out of six observational studies, from four study populations found evidence that intact dogs were associated with an increased risk of dog bite compared with desexed dogs. The effect sizes ranged across the studies and given the heterogeneity of the studies no single effect size on the association between desexing and dog bite risk could be estimated.
Conclusions There is consistent evidence that desexing dogs is associated with a reduced risk of dog bite, although the studies reflect association and may not be causal. Although recent publications have suggested desexing is associated with health and behavioural costs in some breeds, population level evidence supports desexed dogs having a longer lifespan, and being less likely to wander with the added benefit of reducing unwanted litters. Thus, mandatory desexing presents a possible opportunity for prevention of dog bites expanding dog bite prevention beyond an education-only approach.
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Contributors All authors designed the study, KD searched the databases, all authors extracted data and conducted quality appraisal, KD drafted the manuscript and all authors reviewed and approved the final paper.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.