It is an awful situation if your dog has been attacked by another dog. Apart from your natural concerns about any injuries your pet may have sustained, you may also be worried about the costs of any veterinary treatment. Sadly, dog attacks towards other dogs are fairly common. So while we all hope for the best, it’s worthwhile knowing the law and what you can do to support your pet.

Technical liability for a dog attack

If a fight between two dogs occurs, the person who usually becomes liable for the vet’s fees is the owner of the dog which is deemed to be at fault. So it is worth ensuring that your own dog is always under control when you are out and about.

Ideally, your pet should be well socialised and obedient to recall commands from you. If you know your pet does not like other dogs it would be wise to walk them in places or at times when they are less likely to meet other canines. Not only will these measures help you to avoid any liability, but they will also help to prevent an attack from occurring in the first place. 

Sometimes there is a limit to what we can control. If your dog has shown signs of aggression, use a leash in areas where you’re likely to encounter dogs. But like many car collisions, proof of liability can be difficult, unless there is clear evidence or one party is willing to accept blame. Equally, just as you insure your car, getting good cover for your pet can ensure you’re able to cover the bill – whatever the situation.

Fighting between dogs, what should you do?

If, despite taking precautions, you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in a situation where your dog is being attacked, it can be extremely distressing. No matter how upset you are, do stay calm and do not try to intervene or attempt to separate the fighting individuals.

Fighting dogs are often in a state where they will bite at anything or anyone who gets in the way. If you get involved in the general melee you may sustain a serious bite injury yourself. Even your own dog could bite you severely in this type of scenario. 

When things have calmed down, take time to assess your dog for injuries. 

Dog bite injuries range from minor scrapes to life-threatening wounds. Even if your dog seems to be relatively unscathed it is worth contacting your vet and asking them to check your pet for you.

Bite wounds can often look fairly minor, with just a few puncture wounds being visible on the skin. However, a dog’s jaws are incredibly powerful and the shearing forces on the underlying tissues can be quite large. Your vet will be able to check your dog and ensure that any underlying tissue damage or more serious injuries do not go undetected.

If your pet’s skin has been punctured or wounded there is always the chance of an infection setting in later. A dog’s mouth carries a large bacterial load, so veterinary advice and care is always to be recommended after a dog attack. 

Once you have checked your own dog, now is the time to take the details of the other dog’s owner. 

Ask for their name and contact details. If they have pet insurance for their dog request details of this too. If there is any difficulty in obtaining contact details, you may wish to consider reporting the incident to the police or the local dog warden. Remember, if a dog is “dangerously out of control” this may make it a police matter anyway.

If there are any witnesses not directly involved in the incident, it is worth asking for their contact details too. If they are willing to give a statement about the attack this may help you to recover any veterinary costs if your dog was not at fault. All evidence could be valuable if you need to make any kind of claim for costs later on. 

If you have your phone or a camera with you, do consider taking photographs of both animals and any injuries they have sustained as evidence of the incident. Once you have taken all the details and evidence you can obtain, take your pet to your vet to be checked and treated as necessary. 

Following a dog attack both owners are often upset. Sometimes the owner of the dog at fault may offer to pay for the veterinary costs in respect of injuries inflicted upon your pet. In this situation, the two parties are often able to reach an amicable agreement. You should take care to request itemised invoices from your vet once treatment has been given so that the other owner has clear evidence of the amount to be paid. If the other party has pet insurance and their policy provides third party liability cover their insurance company may be able to pay for any vet’s fees arising from the incident, provided their dog was the one at fault. 

What happens if nobody accepts liability?

In situations where there is doubt or an owner isn’t willing to accept liability, the situation could become a little more awkward. In this type of situation, you may decide to make a claim through your own insurance company or pursue a claim against the other owner through the small claims court. 

If you decide to make a claim through your own insurance policy for veterinary fees you should be able to submit your claim in the normal way. Your insurance company will assess your claim and make any payments due, in accordance with their normal procedures and your individual policy with them. They may subsequently decide to pursue a claim against the other owner themselves if they feel that it can be proved they were legally liable. 

If the other owner is not insured or if there is any dispute which cannot otherwise be resolved, civil law allows you to make a claim through the small claims court. You could claim against the other dog owner for your financial losses, together with any other reasonable expenses associated with the incident. 

When making a claim through the small claims court you will have a better chance of success if you have evidence. This might include itemised invoices from your vets, perhaps a copy of the clinical history which your vet could provide, witnesses to the attack who are willing to give evidence and photographs of the injuries sustained by your pet. In these types of claims, it is often not economical to request the help of a solicitor or lawyer; however, the situation may be different if you have been injured yourself during the attack. 

Most dog owners can benefit from the peace of mind which having a good pet insurance policy can bring. Vet’s bills do not have to be a cause of stress if the unexpected happens. Do check your policy is the right one for you and that it will provide the cover you need in the event of a dog attack.

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