Early socialisation of puppies: a potential lifesaver

Intervet UK has developed a practical vaccination regime to help encourage early socialisation in puppies to avoid behavioural problems in later stage. Behavioural problems are treated by euthanasia in a large number of young adult dogs. Many of these problems may arise due to traditional vaccination regimes that encourage owners to keep puppies isolated and unsocialised during the sensitive developmental period (3-14 weeks old). As a result of these concerns, Intervet UK has developed a practical vaccination regime to help encourage early socialisation. Extensive research has now permitted a licence variation in the UK that permits final vaccination with Nobivac DHPPi+L at 10 weeks old in puppies.

Benefits of early vaccination:

A young pup, between the age of 3 and 14 weeks, is affected profoundly by his physical and social environment. What happens during this period will mould his behaviour and personality for the rest of his life. In order to produce a well-behaved and well-balanced adult dog, a young puppy must be exposed to a wide variety of physical, social and environmental stimuli when he is 3-14 weeks old. Puppies that are not socialised and habituated in this way may react with fear to unfamiliar stimuli that they encounter later in life. This can manifest as behaviour problems such as fear-related aggression.

A young pup should not be exposed to disease until he is vaccinated fully. The established vaccination regimes, with final vaccination at 12 weeks old or older, mean that pups often do not interact outside their home environment until 1-2 weeks after this final vaccination. They miss out on socialising fully during the sensitive developmental period. Many serious behaviour problems that arise later in life can be traced back to a relative lack of socialisation during the early developmental period.

Vaccination in the face of MDA:

The traditional final vaccination at 12 weeks old or later dates back to the relatively early days of dog vaccination. This was based on the age at which concentrations of maternally derived antibody (MDA) to canine distemper virus (CDV) would be negligible or absent in almost all pups (Evans, 1967). However, pups from 6 weeks of age (or younger) can mount an immunological response to vaccination. The only thing that might prevent this is the presence of sufficient concentrations of MDA to interfere with the vaccination. In each individual pup, interference by MDA depends upon the concentrations of MDA present at the time of vaccination and the ability of the vaccine to ‘break through’ the MDA. This depends upon three main factors: the strain of vaccine virus used, the passage level selected for live attenuated vaccines and the titre (or actual amount of virus) per dose of vaccine.

Related research activity:

Intervet has an ongoing comprehensive programme of vaccine R&D. This programme has focussed on a number of aspects of vaccination including safely and effectively ‘breaking through’ MDA.

  • Intervet was the first company to develop a high titre, homologous canine parvovirus vaccine (CPV) which could ‘break through’ MDA and enable parvovirus vaccination to be completed at 12 weeks of age.
  • They were the first to develop a high titre combined vaccine that could successfully immunise most puppies at 6 weeks old versus CDV and CPV (Nobivac Puppy DP).
  • Intervet has collected data from numerous studies.
  • One study looked at response following vaccination versus CDV and CPV at 6, 9 and 12 weeks old (Mockett and Stahl, 1995). At first vaccination, the MDA titres were 1:20 to 1:80 and by second vaccination at 9 weeks old, 100% of the 11 pups had responded.
  • Groups of young puppies were vaccinated with Intervet’s multi-component vaccine (called Progard7 in the USA) and a number of competitor vaccines. This was carried out at 6-7 weeks old and a second vaccination was administered at 9-10 weeks old. All the pups vaccinated with Progard7 had responded to both CPV and CDV by 10 weeks of age. Moreover the response to CDV vaccination was far greater compared with vaccination using any of the 4 competitor vaccines (Bergman, 1997, Larson and Schultz, 1997).
  • Beagle pups with MDA titres of 1:4 to 1:64 were vaccinated with Intervet’s vaccine Progard7 at 7, 9 and 12 weeks of age. By 9 weeks of age, all pups had responded to the CDV component and 90% had responded to the CPV component (Bergman, 1996).
  • Other studies carried out include the vaccination of 100 Rottweiler pups at 6 and 9 weeks old (Hoskins, 1997). By 9 weeks of age, all had responded to CDV vaccination and 90% to CPV vaccination. In all these studies, puppies responded to vaccination at or before 10 weeks of age.
  • Intervet UK is the first company to obtain a licensed claim to allow the full primary canine vaccination course to be completed at 10 weeks of age. The company has, in conjunction with the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors developed a guide to puppy socialisation and habituation to be used in conjunction with early vaccination.

(Linda J. I. Horspool, BVMS, PhD, DipECVPT, MRCVS can be contacted at: Companion Animal Team, International Marketing, Intervet International bv, PO Box 31, 5830 AA Boxmeer, NL.)

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