Puppy Socialization vs. Vaccination: What’s the big deal?

Recent research has confirmed that early socialization of puppies (prior to 16 weeks of age) is very important and pivotal to helping young dogs develop a normal, healthy response to life.

 

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A new puppy owner might hear this information and be ready to eagerly pursue this early training, but then the puppy’s first veterinary visit occurs.  The vet might tell these new puppy owners that they should not expose their puppy to any dogs until they’ve finished their vaccine series, which ends around 16 weeks of age.

The new puppy owners are confused… how do they provide early learning opportunities to their dog while keeping them safe from communicable diseases?  It seems impossible.

Take a seat (if you aren’t already sitting), get your cuppa coffee or tea, and let Dr. D clear it up for ya.

First: A quick lesson in immunity.

When puppies are born, they inherit some protection from disease from their mother, depending on her exposure to disease or vaccination.  This protection is known as “maternal antibodies”.  Humans have those, too, when they are babies.

The maternal antibodies only stick around in the pup’s body for about 4 months.  When a puppy is vaccinated, his body tries to make its own antibodies to that disease.  Unfortunately, if his maternal antibodies are still around in high numbers at the time of vaccination, they will counteract the new antibodies and render them ineffective.

As the number of maternal antibodies decreases, the puppy’s immune system is more effective at creating antibodies after vaccination.  Since every puppy’s immune system is different, and we can’t tell when he’s making enough antibodies,  veterinarians administer a few boosters of a vaccine, typically every 3-4 weeks until that pup is 14-16 weeks old.  This vaccine schedule ensures that the puppy can develop his own immunity to a disease once his maternal antibodies are gone.

So what does that have to do with early socialization?

The concern about early socialization has been related to the puppy’s possible exposure to disease before he has the ability to fight it off.  If a puppy is socialized early, starting at 8 weeks of age, he has only had one vaccination.  One vaccination has not given him enough time to create a good immune response to the disease.  He needs at least 2 vaccinations, with no interference from maternal antibodies, to be safely protected.

And, there’s the rub.

What’s the answer to this conundrum?

Here is what we know:

  1. The single most important thing we can do to provide puppies with behavioral wellness is proper socialization during the critical developmental period (before 16 weeks of age).
  2. Behavior problems are the #1 cause of relinquishment to shelters, and over half of the dogs in shelters are euthanized.
  3. Canine parvovirus is the main disease risk associated with puppy socialization before the vaccination series is complete.  Though it is important to assess risk, it should be encouraging that only 2-8% of puppies may not be adequately protected from parvovirus until after their last vaccine at 14-16 weeks old.  In English:  The risk of your puppy getting parvo from a puppy socialization class is very low.
  4. The idea of “puppy class” is fairly novel.  Training facilities who provide genuinely safe opportunities for puppies to socialize are on the cutting edge.  They are progressive among their peers, therefore they are conscientious and often take every precaution to ensure your pup’s safety.

 

So, after taking all this into consideration, what do I recommend?

I believe in the power of early socialization for puppies, as well as ongoing training, to minimize potential behavioral issues later in life.  Behavioral issues such as destructive chewing, separation anxiety, house soiling, dog aggression, fear of humans, etc.  All the behavioral issues that can land a dog in a shelter.

I also believe that this early socialization is so important that the benefits outweigh the very small risk of exposure to disease.  Holding your puppy back until he is done with his vaccination series could seriously inhibit his ability to cope in normal, every day situations.

But I also want to make sure that new puppy owners are taking their pup to socialize in an appropriate place.  A well-run puppy socialization class is the best and safest option for this early socialization to occur.  Here are few things to look for in your puppy social class:

  1. A dog training facility or veterinary clinic with a solid reputation.
  2. Puppies are grouped together by age, and sometimes by size.
  3. Puppies are allowed off-leash and able to play-fight with boundaries.
  4. There is a protocol in place for sanitation and immediate clean-up of accidents.
  5. Puppies should be required to have their first round of vaccines at least 7 days prior to attending their first class.  You will also be required to continue and complete the puppy vaccination series.

Often you will find that during puppy class you will also get some bonus material, such as training tips, an education on dog body language and behavior, and information on other topics that are important to a new puppy owner.  These classes are extremely valuable.

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Dog Parks, Pet Stores, and Other Cesspools of Disease

You might have been thinking this whole time that your puppy could just get his socializing done at the dog park.  You would be mistaken.

I do not like dog parks for young puppies.  Dog parks are not a controlled, safe environment for your young pup to learn healthy behaviors, healthy responses to stimuli, and how to properly interact with other dogs.  Not to mention that there are huge health risks involved – you don’t know if the other dogs are vaccinated or carrying intestinal parasites.  Wait until your pup is about 4-5 months old (after finishing the puppy vaccine series) before taking them to a dog park, and keep them under close supervision.

Also, if you want to prevent unwanted disease in your puppy before they are fully vaccinated, don’t take them with you to the pet store.  Wait until they are fully vaccinated.  You have no idea what’s been there.

So, what’s the next step for my puppy?

Find yourself a local puppy socialization class!  And don’t wait!  Don’t worry if you’re starting late; late is better than never.

Trust me.  You’ll thank me later.

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Looking for a great puppy socialization class in Broomfield, CO?  Check out this one at Rocky Mountain Dog Training!

 

Dr. D used the following resources to help write this article for you.  If you want more information, check ’em out!

AVMA PetCare Page on Protecting your dog, yourself, and others

DVM360 Article weighing risks vs benefits of early puppy socialization classes

AVSAB Position Statement on Puppy Socialization

Are Early Socialization and Infectious Disease Prevention Incompatible?

Broomfield Vet Shares The Truth About Cat Healthcare

“Dear Dr. D,

My cat is a healthy, young adult who never goes outside.  I feed her a top quality food, and she is very happy.  But, she HATES the vet.  Are vaccines really necessary?

Sincerely,

BestCatOwner

 

I am going to tell you the truth, and I may be tarred and feathered by my colleagues for it, but here goes.

Your indoor adult cat does not need vaccines every year.  Once your kitten completes their initial series of vaccines, they don’t need them again for at least 3 years.  Your elderly (over 10 years old) indoor cat could probably go even longer without vaccines, as long as there aren’t any new cats coming into the home.  [Important disclaimer:  Rabies vaccine is required by law, of course, and should be performed every 3 years for cats.]

But, since you asked the question…  I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a story.

Have you noticed the orange tabby cat in my profile picture over there to the right?  Here he is again:

This adorable kitty is a perfect example of a young, healthy adult who never goes outside.

This adorable kitty is a perfect example of a young, healthy adult who never goes outside.

 

For anonymity, let’s name him Buster.  🙂

Buster was about 4 years old when I saw him for the first time.  He was pretty healthy (just a tiny bit overweight), never went outside, ate a high quality food, and was up to date on all his vaccinations.  He was a perfect cat at home, happily lazing his days away as any cat should.

As his veterinarian, I performed a physical examination and recommended running a basic annual blood work panel (standard care in any veterinary practice, not to mention human medical practice).  And I’m so glad I did…

Buster’s blood work revealed a problem, lurking quietly under the happy, healthy facade.  He showed absolutely no clinical signs of the disease that was slowly developing within his body.

Buster was a diabetic. 

More specifically, he was pre-diabetic.  His body was starting to have problems regulating glucose, and without immediate intervention he was going to start showing clinical signs of full-blown diabetes.

I was so grateful that Buster’s owners were committed to allowing me to examine him and run blood work every year.  Had Buster been to see me once every 3 years, his diabetes would have progressed and he only would have been in to the clinic once he was very sick.

Instead, I was able to adjust Buster’s diet, put him on a weight loss plan, and monitor his disease.

Buster never progressed to full diabetes because of our early intervention. 

Buster is a wonderful success story, and only one example of what I want to tell every cat owner in the world:

The most important thing you can do for the health of your cat is have them examined by a veterinarian every year.

 

You’re probably thinking “Yeah, but Buster had a perfectly normal physical exam.  The blood work is what revealed his disease.”  And you are correct.  Here’s the truth: Any veterinarian worth their degree is going to recommend blood work for every pet they see as part of their annual physical.  It is imperative.  So just assume that “annual physical exam” = “blood work”.

I can tell you so many other stories about cats with underlying disease that owners never suspected…  kidney disease, irritable bowel syndrome, stress-induced cystitis, and arthritis…  all of which can be detected and addressed by your veterinarian during an annual exam.

Here’s the bottom line:  Your cat ages multiple “human years” for each of their cat years.  A 4-year-old cat is similar to a 30-year-old human, and a 7-year-old cat is similar to a 50-year-old human.  Do you think it would be okay to skip your physicals for 20 years?  Probably not.

 

 

Do you hate taking your cat to the vet?  Call Dr. D and avoid that trip altogether!  House calls are a great way to get your kitty the care they deserve without the stress of the car ride and veterinary clinic.

 

Leptospirosis: Is it in Broomfield?

 

Is Dora at risk for getting Leptospirosis living in Broomfield, CO?

Is Dora at risk for getting Leptospirosis living in Broomfield, CO?

The short answer?  Yes.

But you know I won’t let you get away with a short answer.  😉

Leptospirosis is a potentially life-threatening disease caused by a spiral shaped bacteria known as Leptospira.  In the past 5 years or so, the incidence of leptospirosis cases in the front range areas (Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, and surrounding areas) has increased significantly.  This is mainly due to population growth and development, as well as pet exposure to wildlife.

What you need to know about Lepto

  1. The bacteria is shed in the urine, and can be carried by any mammal.
  2. Your pet becomes infected by lepto through exposure to wildlife (raccoons, skunks, squirrels, rabbits, etc), contaminated water, food, or bedding, and mountain lakes or streams.  The incidence seems to be higher in new housing developments.
  3. This disease is zoonotic.  That means you and your family can also become infected with lepto.
  4. The disease initially causes flu-like symptoms, and can progress to kidney and/or liver failure.
  5. Lepto is treatable with antibiotics and IV fluids IF CAUGHT EARLY.

An ounce (or a milliliter, in this case) of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Leptospirosis can be prevented by having your dog vaccinated against the disease.  As with anything in life, the vaccination is not a 100% guarantee, but is recommended for all dogs who are at risk for exposure.

If you can answer YES to any of the following statements, Dr. D recommends that your canine friend be vaccinated for lepto:

  1. My family lives in a new housing development.
  2. My family lives in a suburban area that has high wildlife traffic.
  3. My family lives in an urban area where rodents are abundant.
  4. My dog is a farm dog or hunting dog.
  5. My dog goes camping/hiking in the mountains with the family.

 

If your dog needs to be vaccinated for lepto, call Small Things Veterinary House Calls to make an appointment!