How Transportation Impacts Puppy Welfare
Transportation can cause distress in various animal species, including dogs. Factors such as the loading and unloading process, temperature and humidity changes, motion sickness, human-animal interactions, and limited space can negatively impact animals’ health, behavior, and welfare. Because research on transportation has mainly focused on farmed animals, studies on companion animals like dogs are limited. Puppies from large-scale breeding facilities are often transported by road to pet stores or other sales points at around eight weeks of age. The impact of this experience on their well-being is not well-known.
To understand the impact of road transportation on puppies, researchers compared changes in puppies’ behavior and physiological indicators of stress before and after relocation. The study involved 383 puppies from 88 litters and 31 different breeds or crossbreeds from 12 commercial breeding kennels in the U.S. Midwest.
The puppies were tested at their original kennel, and about 48 hours after being transported to a distributor. Assessments included a one-minute isolation test followed by a behavioral assessment called FIDO+. The FIDO+ test involved three actions. First, researchers threw a treat to see if the puppy ate it. Second, they opened the pen door, offered a treat, and observed if the puppy accepted it. Lastly, they tried to touch the puppy while offering a treat and recorded if the puppy took the treat during the interaction. Finally, researchers collected fecal samples from the puppies before and after transportation to analyze stress hormone levels, immune response, and the presence of intestinal parasites.
During the isolation test, puppies displayed more escape attempts and less exploratory behavior after transportation. This result suggests that puppies experienced more distress and fear after relocation. However, puppies did not express other stress-related behaviors such as body shaking, paw lifting, or lip licking more often in the new environment compared to their original kennels. Interestingly, the FIDO+ test showed that puppies displayed more affiliative behavior towards an unfamiliar person after relocation. This result may be because the more distressed the puppies were, the more comfort they sought from human interaction.
Furthermore, examination of feces revealed that transportation elevated both a by-product of stress hormone (glucocorticoid metabolite) and an immune marker (immunoglobulin A). These markers indicate that puppies’ stress levels were higher after transportation, although there were variations between facilities.
Finally, puppies had a physical check-up to investigate any other health issues. The physical examination showed that puppies were generally healthy before and after transportation. The most common health issue observed was tear staining, followed by discharge from the eyes. In addition, intestinal parasites were not found in most of the puppies. Giardia sp. was the most frequently observed parasite.
In sum, puppies exhibited increased distress following transportation to distributors, which might contribute to behavioral issues as they grow older. It is important to note that various factors, such as their original environment and caretaker interactions, can influence puppies’ responses to stressors. This study helps provide valuable information to improve transportation conditions for puppies, ensuring their well-being and reducing the likelihood of travel-related or other behavioral issues in adult dogs.
One limitation of this study is that the new environment might have caused the puppies’ distress, not the transportation itself. Also, while researchers aimed to have a wide representation of puppies from different kennels and breeds, this study does not represent all U.S. breeding facilities.
Further research is needed to explore methods to enhance puppies’ ability to cope with the stress of transportation, such as through positive human-animal interactions. Additionally, it’s essential to investigate the long-term effects of this stress on their well-being. Finally, while many animal advocates seek to end the harmful practice of commercially breeding puppies, these findings may inform the welfare needs of dogs in other contexts (for example, rescued puppies transported to a shelter).