People who own killer dogs could face life in prison, under proposals being considered by the government.
The sentence would be a huge leap from the current maximum of two years, and would also see an owner whose dog injures or kills an assistance dog, face up to 10 years in prison.
Some 16 people have been killed by dangerous dogs since 2005, including 14-year-old Jade Anderson who was savaged by four dogs - believed to be two bull mastiffs and two Staffordshire bull terriers - as she was visiting the home of a friend near Wigan, Greater Manchester, in March.
Animal welfare minister Lord de Mauley said: "Dog attacks are terrifying and we need harsh penalties to punish those who allow their dog to injure people while out of control.
"We're already toughening up laws to ensure that anyone who owns a dangerous dog can be brought to justice, regardless of where a dog attack takes place. It's crucial that the laws we have in place act as a deterrent to stop such horrific incidents."
But Tory MP Therese Coffey said she was surprised by the suggestion.
max sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 yrs & careless 5 yrs. Surprised life being considered if dog goes out of control-- Therese Coffey (@theresecoffey) August 6, 2013
In February, the Government said it would introduce new measures to tackle out of control dogs by changing the law to ensure irresponsible owners can be prosecuted regardless of where their dog attacks.
The new consultation will run to September 1 and will be used to inform recommendations put forward in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents postmen and women and telecoms engineers, who suffer around 5,000 dog attacks each year, welcomed the consultation.
Dave Joyce, the union's health and safety officer, said: "Current sentencing arrangements do not match the serious nature of offences. Sixteen people have been killed since 2005 by dogs, yet the maximum prison sentence is just two years.
"Only one person has ever been imprisoned for a dog attack on a postal worker and as the fatality rate from dog attacks grows, sentencing must get tougher.
"This consultation is very welcome and hopefully indicates the Government is serious about tackling the problem of irresponsible dog ownership. We want to see tougher sentencing, better enforcement and greater consistency in sentencing.
"At the moment people are being handed vastly different sentences for very similar crimes, with one person receiving a suspended prison sentence while another walks away with just a £100 fine."
Last month, Jade Anderson's parents, along with the parents of four-year-old John Paul Massey, who died after his uncle's pitbull attacked him in 2009, handed in a petition at 10 Downing Street calling for David Cameron to take action to prevent more attacks.
They called for preventative measures and education to put a stop to the 210,000 attacks and 6,000 hospital visits caused by dangerous dogs each year.
A report published by Guide Dogs in June this year revealed attacks by other dogs on guide dogs are at an all-time high of 10 a month.
A total of 240 dog attacks on guide dogs were reported between March 2011 and February 2013.
Guide Dogs chief executive Richard Leaman said: "It's almost impossible to imagine the devastating effect an attack on a guide dog can have on someone with sight loss.
"Not only do they face being completely robbed of their means of getting out and about independently, they also face the huge emotional impact that any dog owner feels when their beloved friend is injured - only a far more extreme version.
"The punishment for irresponsible dog owners should reflect the immense turmoil and anguish these attacks cause our guide dog owners, and all assistance dog owners.
"We welcome any measures that will treat attacks on guide dogs more seriously and we are pleased that the Government is asking for views on this issue."
Crime prevention minister Jeremy Browne said: "Dog owners who fail to take responsibility for their dogs must be held accountable.
"Today's consultation will give the public a say in whether owners of dangerous dogs that attack people should face tougher penalties, possibly life imprisonment.
"This government is taking urgent action to protect the public from out of control dogs.
"We are changing the law so owners can be prosecuted for attacks on private property and our anti-social behaviour reforms will give the police and local agencies more effective powers to deal with dangerous dogs."Suggest a correction