By Annette Uda
Climbing puppies. Tumbling puppies. Rolling puppies. Those robust little balls of fur look like they can take on the world. And who can resist all their fuzzy cuddles and puppy kisses?
But, as they’re also pooping puppies, peeing puppies, slobbering puppies, sneezing, coughing, shedding, breathing puppies with immune systems that are not yet fully developed, the world can hide a minefield of potential health hazards for them as well as the people who care for them.
The Imprecise Math of Puppy Immune Systems
Newborn puppies acquire passive immunity from their mother in the form of maternal antibodies. But there is no certainty as to which diseases the puppies are protected from, how long they’re protected and, if vaccines are administered before maternal antibodies are gone, the vaccination may be rendered useless. As described by Ernest Ward, DVM:
“Maternal antibodies protect the newborn from the diseases against which the mother was protected. Maternal antibodies only last a few weeks in the puppy; this duration is directly proportional to the level of immunity the mother has. If her immunity level against rabies, for example, is very high, the maternal antibodies for rabies may last up to three months. If her level is low, they may persist only five or six weeks. As long as they are present, the puppy is passively protected; however, those antibodies also block a vaccine challenge. If a puppy receives a vaccination for rabies before the maternal rabies antibodies are gone, the vaccine’s effect is blocked, and no immunity develops. The same holds true for the other components of the vaccines; temporary immunity received from the mother can interfere with all of the vaccinations.” 1
Further, even if vaccines are administered at the right time, they may take about two weeks to become effective. Those climbing, tumbling, rolling puppies are ready to play and they should be doing so. As described by the AKC, puppies go through a socialization period from seven weeks to four months of age that shapes their future personality and how they will react as adults. Exposing them to a variety of people, places, and situations is key, as is the gentle handling of them in the first several weeks of their lives to help develop a friendly, confident dog. 2
In short, the vaccine variables mean the immunity math doesn’t always add up if it’s time for puppies to be socialized; their maternal antibodies may block vaccines or, perhaps, the vaccines have not had time to take effect yet. Maintaining a clean animal care environment should always be a priority, but this vaccine uncertainty when it comes to the puppies in your care should provide additional incentive to make sure your cleaning protocols are effective. Diseases that are commonly vaccinated against can be spread by direct contact and by airborne transmission. Do you have both surface and air cleaning protocols in place?
Surface and Air Cleaning Protocols
It’s easy to “get” how disease can spread through contact with contaminated objects. Slobber-covered bowls or saliva-encrusted toys. And by direct contact with other infected puppies―touching noses and sniffing butts. Objects and surfaces can be cleaned, and other puppies can be avoided, but what about what we can’t see? Canine distemper, canine influenza, and canine cough are all airborne diseases. That is, they are primarily spread through the air. When an infected animal coughs, sneezes, barks, or even sheds dander – just once – he releases thousands of microscopic contaminants into the air. While some of these contaminants are large and heavy enough to fall to the surface where they can be eliminated with surface cleaning, many are “aerosolized.” These virtually invisible bacteria and viruses can remain viable (alive and able to infect) in the air for extended periods of time, clinging to tiny dust particles, riding on air currents, and traveling throughout the environment until inhaled by another host. Possibly a tiny, furry one that is not yet effectively vaccinated. Puppy breath means exhales and inhales.
Of course, the spread of infectious bacteria and viruses can be limited by the usual method of disinfecting surfaces and tools with sprays and then wiping down. But this still allows for missing areas, possibly leaving behind microscopic microbes that may still linger on floors, countertops, and any other surface that needs regular cleaning.
Surface cleaning and sanitary measures must be part of any cleaning protocol which should include measures such as:
- Adequate supervision so puppy poop, puke, and pee can be immediately cleaned and the area disinfected.
- Watching for signs of diarrhea so not only can the area be cleaned but the puppy can be placed in supervised isolation until the pet parent can pick him up.
- Mandatory hand washing/sanitizing between puppy handling.
But, simply put, that’s not enough. The primary transmission route of respiratory infections is spread through the air: panting, coughing, shedding, sneezing. So, what’s your protocol for cleaning the air?
How to Clean the Air
How do you clean something that surrounds you but that you can’t see? Think of cleaning the air somewhat like cooling the air. Very simply put, air conditioners work by cooling air as it through them. Hot air goes in, cold air comes out. You can clean the air by sanitizing it as it passes through something that will kill the bacteria and viruses. That something is ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI). UVGI is often just called UV but it is not the same UV as the UV-A or UV-B we hear about more often that cause premature aging (UV-A) or skin cancer (UV-B), for example. This UV, rather, has been used for close to 100 years to help disinfect, sanitize, and control infection in hospitals and other highly sensitive environments where maintaining sanitary air circulation, as well as surface areas, are critical. In a nutshell, this UV kills bacteria and viruses. Portable, upper air, and mobile UVGI products can target specific areas of your business. UVGI can also be integrated with your HVAC system to help disinfect the air throughout your business.
However, while UV technology can help optimize air cleaning there is a but – and it’s a big but – it must be the right UV. The truth is you get what you pay for. “Over the counter” UV light is not strong enough and cannot achieve a high enough bacteria and virus kill rate that’s needed to be effective. Further, you must have the right amount of UV energy. Every building, every space, has different, custom requirements. Be wary of UV “distributors” or “online shopping UV” and a one size fits all sales mentality. Working with experts matters. Ask questions. Get the facts. Ask for their studies.
The “One Health” Consideration for Puppies and People
Between January 2016 and February 2018, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identified 118 people from 18 states, including 29 pet store employees, who developed multidrug-resistant bacterial infections from exposure to Campylobacter bacteria. The outbreak was traced to puppies sold at Petland, a national chain of pet stores. And here’s “the kicker” as described in an AAHA’s NEWStat report:
“the antibiotic-resistant bacteria appears to have spread at least in part because healthy dogs were given antibiotics—a decision the CDC says helped a condition in which bacterial infections no longer respond to the drugs designed to treat them, due in part to overuse.” 3
While Campylobacter bacteria was most likely spread via contact with dog feces in the case of the pet store puppies outbreak, airborne transmission has been documented. 4 Further, this multidrug-resistant outbreak is a reminder that effective cleaning protocols must be in place as drugs are not always effective for animal-to-animal or animal-to-human.
The “One Health” concept implemented by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) highlights the interdependent nature of human health and animal health. The Campylobacter bacteria is just one example. A few related statistics from OIE in this regard include:
- 60% of existing human infectious diseases are zoonotic (disease spread from animal to human).
- 75% of emerging infectious disease of humans (including Ebola, HIV, and influenza) have an animal origin.
- Out of five new human diseases that appear every year, three are of
animal origin. 5
The reality is, your cleaning protocols protect not only the health of the puppies in your care, but the health of you and your staff as well, which can impact absenteeism and job performance.
The extent to which the airborne route contributes to diseases transmission, while well-documented, has not always received the same consideration in animal care as it does in human health care where, for example, UVGI use is already standard protocol for preventing the spread of disease in hospitals. The health of the puppies, people, and your pet care business is in your hands and in the air―make sure your cleaning protocols include but extend beyond surface cleaning.
The foregoing is presented as basic information to help protect the health of puppies and the humans who care for them. It is presented for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice from your veterinarian.
About Annette Uda
Annette Uda is the founder of PetAirapy, the animal care industry’s leading manufacturer of UVGI sanitation equipment. Annette has a passion for animal health and educating animal care providers on reliable, non-toxic ways to create clean, healthy environments for your animal clients and your staff. To learn more about her company, visit https://petairapy.com.