A question about young puppies in the workplace came up the other day. Specifically, what’s the risk of a 4-week-old puppy coming to an office to visit?

There are two main considerations:

Risk to the puppy

  • Not inconsequential. A 4-week-old puppy has a developing immune system, no vaccine protection, and the antibodies it received from its mother are waning.
  • If older dogs are sometimes in the workplace (as was the case here) or if people wear clothing that has come into contact with other dogs, there’s a chance of exposure to various pathogens that could hurt the puppy.
  • The real risk isn’t known and there’s an blurry line between the benefits of socializing the puppy by taking it to various places and risks to the puppy from pathogen exposure. Typically, we err on the side of protecting the puppy’s health at this young age.

Risks to people

  • Not inconsequential either.
  • Puppies (just like human children) are cute little pathogen machines. A relatively high proportion of puppies shed a variety of potentially harmful microorganisms (and have a much greater chance of depositing those bugs on the floor, hands and clothing since they’re not house-trained, and they may also have a greater chance of carrying these pathogens on their coats due to contamination).
  • Contact with young puppies has been repeatedly shown to be a risk factor for diseases such as Campylobacter infection in people, especially kids.
  • The overall risk is pretty low and concern is mostly focused on high-risk populations (i.e. kids less than 5 years of age, individuals over 65 years of age, pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems). The problem is, most workplaces have some of these people in them, even if others aren’t fully aware it. Furthermore, people can carry pathogens home on their clothes and bodies and expose high risk people (e.g. infants) back at home.

It’s always hard to say how restrictive to be. Puppies are cute and entertaining, and people enjoy being around them. I don’t go running in the other direction when I see a puppy (except maybe if my daughter Amy is with me, since she’s lobbying for another dog) and I don’t keep my kids away from them (they’re all older than 5). At the same time, I realize that I’m accepting some risk.

Balancing the risk/reward is tough, and it’s not the same for everyone.

Ultimately, a few things need to be considered:

  • Education: People need to know that there are risks.
  • Mitigation: People need to know how to reduce those risks (e.g. hand washing).
  • Choice: People who are high risk or have high-risk people at home need to be able to avoid exposure. That can be tough when a puppy is brought to a workplace, though, especially when you consider the potential for people to cross-contaminate common surfaces.

I’m not against animals in the workplace, although a lot of thought needs to go into things like allergies and safety. Young puppies are best kept out of workplaces because of risks to them and others. Establishing minimum age, vaccination and health status requirements should be part of a pet policy for any workplace that allows pets to come in.