Cattle are generally not considered to be particularly dangerous, but they do have the ability to cause injury to people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 21 deaths, which occurred in four states, were attributed directly to cattle between the years of 2003 and 2008. The good news is that absolutely none of those deaths were caused by cows biting humans.
The Basics of Cow Dentition
Cows are herbivores, meaning they are only designed to eat grass and other forage. If you ever have the opportunity to look inside the mouth of a cow, you will see she only has front teeth on the bottom of her jaw. Cows have what is called a dental pad on the top of their mouths where most animals have their upper set of teeth. The dental pad helps the cow crush up forage. Cows do have top and bottom molars in the back of their mouths, but the molars are not used during the initial biting action these animals take while eating.
The Basics of Cow Aggression
Cows are not predators and typically do not display a significant amount of aggressive behavior. Cows are most likely to run away when they feel threatened. The only time you are likely to see aggressive behavior from a cow is in a situation where the cow is unable to run away and feels she is forced to defend herself. Cows typically defend themselves by kicking, trampling or stomping their victims.
Cows and Biting
Animals who only have a single row of teeth in the front of their mouths are extremely unlikely to bite people as a defensive mechanism. You may see cows appear to nibble or bite at one another, but this is just their way of grooming one another. If your cow has been hand raised or is extremely domesticated, you may accidentally get nibbled on if the cow decides to try and groom you. You may also get accidentally nibbled while you are bringing the cow food of some kind. These are not malicious bites, and the cow isn't trying to hurt you. It's important to note that, even though cows are unlikely to choose to bite you, if you stick your fingers, hand or other body part inside in the cow's mouth, you should expect to be bitten.
Bulls and Aggression
Bulls are known for showing more aggressive behaviors, but bulls are more likely to try kick, gore, trample or crush you then they are to bite you. Bulls may display aggressive behavior with other animals as well as with humans. You should always use caution when dealing with a bull, though the risk of being bitten is still extremely low.
- Zweber Family Farms: Can Cows Bite
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Using Dentition to Age Cattle
- New York Times: Dangerous Cows
- Sunnyside Farm Fun: How to Get Bitten By a Cow In One Easy Lesson
- North Virginia Community College: Bovine Behavior and Reproduction
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Fatalities Caused by Cattle --- Four States, 2003--2008
- John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images