Dangers at Early Puppy Socialization Classes

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Parvoviral Infection Risk in Puppies in Early Socialization Classes

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by Lorie Huston, DVM on March 23, 2014

Early socialization is one of the best things a pet owner can provide for their young puppy. Puppies that are well-socialized prior to 3-4 months of age grow to be more confident dogs with fewer anxiety or aggression problems. However, socialization requires exposure to other animals, including other dogs and/or puppies as well as other people, situations, and objects the puppy may not necessarily encounter in his own home.

Photo Credit: DepositPhotos.com/Taden1

With the exposure to other dogs/animals brings the risk of disease transmission, particularly for young dogs. Still, the need for socialization is an important one. The risk of a dog being surrendered or euthanized as a result of undesirable behaviors is much higher than the risk of dying of an infectious disease. In addition, if the settings are chosen carefully, risks of exposure to infectious disease can be minimized.

Canine parvovirus (CPV) is one of the most serious diseases to which young, unprotected dogs and puppies can be exposed. Parvovirus is a viral disease that infects the intestinal tract, destroying the lining of the intestines and compromising the immune system. It is quite often fatal for infected puppies. Though vaccination is available and is highly recommended, many puppies don’t develop full immunity to the disease until between 3-4 months of age.

One of the major concerns with early socialization and exposure of puppies to other dogs is the risk of exposing an unprotected puppy to parvovirus. Currently, even some veterinarians continue to recommend sequestration of puppies until 16 weeks of age because of the threat of parvovirus. Unfortunately, this recommendation precludes taking advantage of the prime opportunity for early socialization, which is between 4-16 weeks of age.

Recently, a study was completed that examined if puppies that attended puppy socialization classes and were vaccinated by a veterinarian at least once were at an increased risk of confirmed canine parvovirus (CPV) infection compared with puppies that did not attend classes and to determine the frequency of suspected CPV infection in puppies vaccinated at least once that attended classes with trainers.

To do this, 21 clinics in four cities in the United States provided information regarding demographics, vaccination, CPV diagnosis, and class attendance for puppies 16 wk of age or younger. In addition, 24 trainers in those same cities collected similar information on puppies that attended their classes. The results: In total, 279 puppies attended socialization classes and none were suspected of or diagnosed with CPV infection.

Here is the conclusion reached by the researchers:

“Results indicated that vaccinated puppies attending socialization classes were at no greater risk of CPV infection than vaccinated puppies that did not attend those classes.”

What does this tell us? To me, this study is further proof that early socialization can be carried out safely and effectively, without posing an increased disease risk to the puppies involved.

A note of caution is in order here though. When we talk about early socialization, we’re not talking about haphazardly exposing your puppy to dogs which you know nothing about. Early socialization should take place in a controlled environment. Your puppy should be exposed only to healthy, vaccinated, parasite-free puppies and adult dogs.

In most communities, puppy socialization classes are available through training facilities, shelters, and/or veterinary clinics. These types of supervised classes are what I recommend to my clients. I do not recommend taking your puppy to the dog park or other areas where dogs of unknown health and vaccination status gather. However, I do feel that any minimal risks posed by enrolling your puppy in a puppy socialization class is far outweighed by the benefits of these experiences. Early socialization is something that will benefit your dog far into the future.

Source: Stepita ME, Bain MJ, Kass PH. Frequency of CPV infection in vaccinated puppies that attended puppy socialization classes. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 2013;49:95-100.

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About Lorie Huston, DVM
Lorie Huston is an accomplished veterinarian, an award winning blogger, a talented author and a certified veterinary journalist. She is available for writing assignments, blogging and social media consultation, and SEO strategy.

This article is posted and shared through the courtesy of the Pet Health Care Gazette