Monitoring animal related injuries

There is a mounting body of evidence about the benefits to human health and wellbeing provided by animal interactions, however these interactions can also cause injuries (Steele, Ma et al. 2007, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID) 2021). Human encounters with domestic and wild animals are likely to become increasingly common throughout the world, particularly as ecosystems change (Myers, Gaffikin et al. 2013), pet ownership increases (Ozanne-Smith, Ashby et al. 2001) and humans encroach on animal habitat (Thirgood, Woodroffe et al. 2005).

Mechanisms and patterns of injuries vary by the type of animal involved (Norwood, McAuley et al. 2000). Specific industries such as the agricultural sector (Peachey and Lower 2023, Safe Work Australia 2023) and subpopulations including children (Rhea, Weber et al. 2014) are at increased risk of serious injury from contact with animals. Australians can also be exposed to a risk of animal-associated injury during international travel (Gautret, Schwartz et al. 2007). Australia is also home to some of the most venomous animals in the world and ongoing public health surveillance of envenomation informs work preventing deaths from these injuries (Welton, Williams et al. 2017, Australian Venomous Injury Project 2023).

What this report describes

This report focuses exclusively on describing injuries caused by contact with animals. Some external causes of injury encompass animals and plants or humans, without further differentiation in hospitalisation records; these are excluded from the bulk of this report to focus on cases where only contact with animals is identified as the external cause of an injury. Zoonotic diseases are out of scope for this report.

This report explores injuries that resulted in hospitalisation. It excludes deaths caused by such injuries because numbers were too small for meaningful inferences to be made. Emergency department (ED) presentations were assessed but the number of cases where an external cause code was recorded (enabling the cause of injury to be ascertained) were too low to enable further analysis.

Trends in injuries over a ten-year period from July 2012 to June 2022 are described. Monitoring these trends informs discussions about evolving human-animal encounters, injury prevention and management.

The technical notes section of this report outlines how cases of injury are ascertained. Definitions, methodology and data limitations that should be considered when reading this report.

This report aims to: 

Describe ED presentations and hospitalisations that occur across Australia due to injuries caused by contact with animals during 2021-22, specifically:

  • How many injury cases are hospitalised or present to ED?
  • Who is injured?
  • What animals cause these injuries?
  • What types of injuries are commonly sustained?
  • Where do these injuries commonly occur?
  • How severe these injuries are and how are they managed in hospitals?

We also describe any changes in observable trends of these injury presentations and hospitalisations over the past 10 years

Related AIHW reports

Previous AIHW reporting related to this topic includes:

Injury in Australia includes a category called Contact with living things which covers injury hospitalisations (and a handful of deaths) caused by contact with animals, plants and humans. Contact with non-venomous animals was the top cause (60%) of hospitalisations due to contact with living things in 2021–22 and contact with venomous animals caused a further 7% of these hospitalisations.

What this report does not describe

  • A person may be injured multiple times, and this report does not present information about the number of people injured. In addition, one person may be hospitalised a number of times related to the same index injury case. We instead present information about the number of cases of injury.
  • This report only reflects injuries where external causes are coded, the injury is identifiable as due to contact with animals and the case presents to Australian hospitals or EDs. It therefore underestimates the total impact of injuries due to contact with animals as it does not count injuries where health care is not sought from a hospital or emergency department.
  • This report does not cover zoonotic infections, it focuses on primary diagnoses of injury.
  • The report does not describe breeds of pets causing injuries.
  • Minor injuries (e.g. scratches and stings) are likely under-reported, with injury hospitalisations or ED presentations likely biased towards injuries perceived as severe enough to require health care intervention. By the same logic, injuries caused by venomous animals are likely to be perceived as more serious and hence over-represented in this report.
  • A smaller number of severe injuries that result in death may not include a stay in hospital but are captured in mortality data. These are not outlined in this report.
  • Over time, minor changes have been made to the method for counting cases of injury, therefore data presented in previous AIHW reports may not match the data presented in this report.
  • ICD-10-AM codes including injuries due to combined plants and animals, or combined humans and animals are excluded from this report due to inability to ascertain what type of animate mechanical forces are involved.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting Australian Government closure of the international border from 20 March 2020 caused significant disruptions to the usual Australian population trends. This report uses Australian Estimated Resident Populations (ERP) that reflect these disruptions.
  • COVID-19 related disruptions in usual population trends may complicate interpretation of statistics calculated from these ERPs. For example, rates and proportions may be greater than in previous years due to decreases in the denominator (population size) of some sub-populations.
  • Australian injury surveillance systems have a major focus on the external causes of injuries, which is especially important from a prevention perspective. When this information is not collected it obstructs direct comparisons between the causes of injury across hospitalisations, deaths, and ED presentation data.