|Puppies and kittens need to be socialised from an early age.|
Should you wait until a vaccination course is complete before you socialise your puppy or kitten, or advise your clients to do so?
According to the AmericanAnimal Hospital Association (AAHA), the answer is generally NO.
AAHA recently released its Canine and Feline Behaviour Management Guidelines, which make some very clear statements about behaviour in puppies and kittens.
Importantly, the guidelines argue that – based on current evidence – patients do not outgrow pathologic fear. Animals that suffer from an anxiety at an early age are likely to continue to do so. Early intervention is not a luxury: it is critical.
Puppies and kittens should not be separated from their litter mates until they are EIGHT weeks (56 days) old. Early separation is associated with increased anxiety, barking, fearfulness on walks and reactivity, as well as food-possessiveness, problematic attention-seeking behaviour and destructive behaviour later in life.
There is a clear consensus statement about socialising puppies and kittens before their vaccination course is completed:
Puppies and kittens born to healthy, properly vaccinated mothers and engaged in an active vaccination program have a low risk of contracting infectious diseases.
There is no reason to delay puppy and kitten classes or social exposure until the vaccination series is completed as long as exposure to sick animals is prohibited, basic hygiene is practiced, and diets are high quality. The risks attendant with missing social exposure far exceed any disease risk.
The behaviour and emotional wellbeing of veterinary patients has come into focus, particularly in relation to companion animals, in the last couple of years. There are some important reasons for this: in Western countries, more dogs and cats are adversely affected by behavioural problems than any other condition.
If an owner cannot cope with an animal’s behaviour, the outcome is often surrender of that animal. Which, as we know, can be life threatening. Animals with behaviour issues may be challenging or, at worst, deemed a liability to rehome. The majority of animals surrendered to shelters for behavioural reasons are between one and three years of age. We can all play a role in reducing this terrible statistic.
Hammerle M et al (2015) 2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behaviour Management Guidelines. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 51:205-221 DOI 10.5326/JAAHA-MS-6527