American Veterinary Society of Behavior Recommends Socializing Kittens and Puppies at Seven Weeks of Age

 |  Nov 30th 2008  |   3 Contributions


A timeworn clich holds that old dogs can't learn new tricks. A different, inaccurate clich states that cats can't learn any tricks at all.

Kittens and puppies, definitively, are most socializable and trainable when they are young. But this has led to debate among veterinarians. Young animals are most socializable when they have not yet received their full complement of puppy or kitten vaccines.

Some veterinarians discourage early socialization. They worry that young pets attending puppy school or kitten kindergarten may be at increased risk of contracting infectious diseases. Others (myself included) generally feel that the benefits of early socialization outweigh the risks.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is an organization of veterinarians dedicated to promoting healthy human-animal bonds through appropriate behavior training. They recently released guidelines recommending that puppy and kitten socialization begin early in life--when pets are seven or eight weeks old.

These guidelines have led to an interesting debate in the pages of the North American Veterinary Conference's Clinician's Brief. The November, 2008 issue of the Brief contained a letter to the editor that outlined one vet's concerns with this policy.

How can the [AVSAB] in good conscience recommend socialization (I assume classes) for 7- to 8-week-old puppies prior to completion of their vaccination series? Apparently the AVSAB has no fear of puppies getting distemper or parvovirus and no regard for their legal liability or that of any veterinarian who follows their advice. I see many puppies with parvo at 8 to 16 weeks of age. I know most of these puppies received lots of socialization (contact with other dogs and people) to their detriment. I have to feel this is poor advice until proven otherwise.

Jiim Kinnerly, DVM
Santee, California

Dr. Kinnerly's letter succinctly sums up the concerns of many vets. However, I felt that the AVSAB's response to the letter was very powerful.

They state:

The sad reality is that more dogs are euthanized because of behavioral problems than due to infectious . . . diseases.

Kate Hurley, MPVM, DVM also offers some steps that people can take to minimize the risk of infectious disease in young animals as they are socialized. Her recommendations include quarantining new puppies for two weeks after adoption and limiting exposure to other puppies during this time (although puppies can be "socialized with fully vaccinated dogs and . . . people, vacuum cleaners, etc.") Puppy classes should take place in clean environments that are regularly treated with agents that kill parvovirus. Puppies and kittens should benefit from a medically approved regimen of vaccinations during the socialization process. Puppies should not go to high-risk areas such as dog parks until their vaccines are complete.

I have told many clients that I support puppy school and kitten kindergarten in general because these classes are filled by self-selected responsible pet owners. The sort of people who work hard to socialize their pets also generally follow their vets' vaccination guidelines. This reduces the likelihood of disease outbreaks.

Certainly, puppy school and kitty kindergarten have risks. But my opinion is that failing to socialize your pet properly is much riskier by far. And E. Kathryn Meyer, VMD, President of the AVSAB seems to agree.

As with most things in life, the recommendation to allow young puppies to socialize together prior to completing their vaccination series is based on a risk-benefit analysis. Review of the scientific literature regarding the behavioral development of dogs and the real-life practical experiences of those who have aplied these principles suppport AVSAB's position that the benefit exceeds the risk in these controlled environments, provided the guidelines noted above are followed.

Hat tip to Sugar Plum for the photo.

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