Animal Workers and Dog Bites: What Does the Law Say?

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By Editor

Working closely with animals, especially dogs, inevitably exposes individuals to some risk of being bitten or attacked. Animal care professionals, including veterinarians, groomers, trainers, shelter staff, and pet sitters, understand this occupational hazard. However, they also have legal protections if a dog bite occurs on the job.

Laws recognize that animal workers face higher dog bite risks and generally cannot sue pet owners for damages under negligence claims. But that does not leave animal workers completely vulnerable or unable to receive compensation for severe injuries. There are important exceptions and insurance benefits to know about.

     I. Veterinarians

Veterinarians understand that dog bites fall within the territory of treating pets. Dog bite attorneys explain that vets generally cannot sue pet owners for negligence if bitten during an exam or procedure since bites are an expected occupational risk. However, if owners intentionally provoke when warned against it, the vets may have a valid case.

Veterinarians also often have access to workers’ compensation to cover bite injuries without suing owners. But limitations on claims make precautions imperative for vets.

   II. Groomers and Trainers 

Working hands-on with dogs puts groomers and trainers at continual risk of bites just from accidental movements or minor provocations. Vets, groomers, and trainers have limited recourse under negligence against owners and businesses for bites suffered on the job. Workers’ compensation can provide coverage for certain injuries.

However, if there are known aggressive tendencies that went undisclosed, such as a warning sign at a grooming business saying “Beware of Dog” that the groomer was unaware of, claims become more feasible. Provoking bites through animal cruelty or egregious mishandling could also impose liability.

  III. Shelter Staff and Volunteers

The humane society and shelter workers know adopted pets may have troubled backgrounds or uncertainty with handling. Bites are an expected hazard. Workers’ compensation programs generally cover shelter staff injuries. Volunteer waivers also limit liability for shelters when bites occur.

However, failing to inform staff of known bite histories or risks unique to a particular dog can impose legal negligence if it leads to bite injuries. Shelters must make reasonable efforts to document and disclose bite histories to prevent staff from being caught off guard.

 IV. Pet Sitters

As self-employed contractors visiting private homes, pet sitters lack workers’ compensation coverage. They generally assume the risk of bites and have limited legal recourse against pet owners for negligence. It is an expected job hazard.

However, owners must inform sitters of any past aggressive behavior or biting incidents so they can opt to decline the job or take added precautions. Intentionally failing to disclose known biting risks could impose liability, depending on state laws. Sitters should discuss bite histories, and temperament concerns upfront.

     I.  Strict Liability Breeds

If a dog bite occurs from a breed considered “dangerous” under local laws, such as pit bulls in some jurisdictions, strict liability statutes can override the assumption of risk. Owners of prohibited breeds may be liable for bites regardless of circumstances or whether the victim is an animal worker. However, banning certain breeds remains controversial.

   II.  Premises Liability

Animal care professionals bitten on the pet owner’s property, such as a vet tech bitten by a runaway dog on the street, may pursue premises liability claims against landowners. This relies on the fact that the property owner failed to take reasonable precautions against a known dangerous condition on the premises.

  III.  Intentional Harm

If a pet owner intentionally provokes or encourages aggression that directly results in a bite, the animal worker likely has solid grounds for a lawsuit. Intentionally causing harm abolishes the legal assumption of risk protections. But such situations are rare.

Mitigating Dog Bite Risks

While legal liability is limited for employers and pet owners when workers are bitten on the job, it remains crucial to take all reasonable precautions through policies, procedures, training, and equipment. This includes:

– Documenting and communicating any bite history to staff

– Proper animal handling training

– Having muzzles, gloves, and catch poles available

– Ensuring adequate staffing for difficult animals

– Allowing staff discretion to refuse overly aggressive pets


With smart precautions, most animal bite incidents can be avoided, despite the inherent risks of working with animals. Open communication and updated training are most important for the well-being of workers, animals, and pet owners alike. Understanding legal protections as well as duties under the law provides a useful perspective, but safety should always come first for professionals devoted to animal welfare.

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