American Staffordshire terrier-Great Dane mix
An American Staffordshire terrier-Great Dane mix dog bit a 3-day-old child to death. Reuters

Coughing cost a mother dearly as she lost her three-day-old son in a tragic accident involving their family dog. A couple was watching television with their newborn at their home in the Mira Mesa neighbourhood in San Diego in California. The pet dog was also lying on the bed with them. The mother suddenly coughed, which startled the American Staffordshire terrier-mix.

In a reflex action, the dog bit the child leading to death, Sergeant Tu Nguyen of the San Diego police's child abuse unit was quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times. The parents immediately separated the dog from the baby and rushed to the hospital, where their three-day-old was declared dead, Nguyen said, calling the incident "a horrific, tragic case". He added that an autopsy will be conducted to confirm the actual cause of death.

Dan DeSousa, deputy director of the county Department of Animal Services, reportedly said the two-year-old, neutered male terrier-mix, named Polo, was taken away by county animal control officers to be quarantined. The couple was not at home when the dog was removed, he said.

DeSousa added that the dog would undergo a 10-day quarantine procedure to see if it has rabies, following which it could be handed over to the owners if they wish to reclaim their pet.

Doggone Safe, a non-profit organisation that works towards preventing dog bites and supporting victims, was quoted by the paper as saying that there have been similar cases in the past where dogs have hurt little babies because a baby "moves and sounds like prey".

According to the organisation, dogs become "agitated" by a baby's sound and movements. Experts have also warned in the past to keep dogs away from children as family dogs, no matter how well tamed they are, tend to change behaviour when a baby is brought home.