Preparing for Your New Puppy
Are you thinking about getting a puppy, or are you about to welcome a new puppy into your family? In this jam-packed article all about puppies, you’ll find answers to the common questions that owners ask our vets, including information on Vaccinations, Deworming, Pet Insurance, Microchipping, Spay and Neuter, Feeding, Teething, and Socializing!
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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What vaccinations should my puppy have?
We recommend that all puppies are given an initial course of vaccination injections, starting at around 8 weeks of age. The vaccines must be given 2-4 weeks apart for appropriate immunity. After the first initial vaccines, they should be followed by an annual (yearly) booster vaccination. Annual vaccinations are needed to boost the body’s immune response because the level of protection naturally declines over time. Certain vaccinations, such as Leptospirosis, are repeated annually, whereas the common “puppy shots” which include parvovirus are repeated every three years, as well as the rabies vaccine.
The standard for most vaccination schedules and recommendations for dogs and cats of all life stages has been set by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) which can be accessed here.
Commonly, the “core” vaccines are considered to be:
- Distemper/Parvovirus/Adenovirus-2/Parainfluenza vaccine (commonly referred to as the “puppy shot”)
- Rabies vaccine
The “non-core” or lifestyle-based vaccines are considered to be:
- Bordetella vaccine (commonly referred to as “kennel cough”)
- Leptospirosis vaccine
- Lyme vaccine
- Canine Influenza vaccines (H3N8 and H3N2)
Most of the viral diseases we vaccinate for in young dogs are treatable, but some can be life-threatening or even fatal. Because of this, the best approach is to vaccinate against them to help protect your puppy as they grow.
Common symptoms of parvovirus, for example, are vomiting, bloody diarrhea, severe systemic infection, and dehydration. This is one of the most commonly diagnosed serious conditions in unvaccinated puppies, and even with the best care, can cause death. Other diseases we vaccinate for include distemper (which can cause seizures and a severe respiratory infection), leptospirosis (which causes kidney failure), and rabies (which has been 100% fatal in animals that contract it). Ask your vet what vaccines are appropriate to give at certain ages. They can help direct you to the best comprehensive plan for your pet’s individual lifestyle needs!
For more information about vaccinating your puppy or dog, check out our related article!
When should I deworm my puppy?
Puppies have immature immune systems and are at a high risk for contracting common intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, and coccidia. They can pick up parasites in several ways, including from their mother, from the environment (eggs laid in the grass or dirt), or from other dogs’ stool directly. Puppies are routinely dewormed during their first visits with their vet around 6 to 8 weeks of age. They can then be started on monthly heartworm prevention that also includes a dewormer for common parasites.
Roundworms and Hookworms very common intestinal parasites in puppies. Roundworms are often described as long, spaghetti-like worms. Hookworms are less obvious in the stool but can make puppies very sick by causing blood loss, diarrhea, and dehydration.
It’s important to note that these parasites can infect humans as well. They cause varying illnesses from mild abdominal pain to blindness and can even cause death. Due to this, we recommend cleaning up your puppy’s stool while wearing gloves and particularly avoiding contact with those most likely to become infected such as pregnant women, small children, or the elderly.
Either way, it’s wise to have your puppy’s stool tested during their initial vet visits to ensure that they don’t have any obvious parasites that need to be treated. Often, parasites can be detected early, and treated before your pet becomes ill!
You can read more about parasites and deworming your dog here!
Should I get insurance for my puppy?
One of the most common barriers to pet care during emergencies is a lack of financial ability to pay for medical services. Unfortunately, most pets don’t have insurance. Pet industry professionals in the US are trying to improve this trend because we know that having a pet insurance policy can greatly reduce the cost of care to owners throughout an animal’s life.
Many different companies exist that provide varying tiers of coverage (just like in human medicine!) Coverage is the most affordable and comprehensive if purchased in a young, healthy puppy. If it’s feasible, every owner should have pet insurance to ensure they’re always able to provide the care needed for their furry family member, whether it’s unexpected or not.
Curious about pet insurance? Pawlicy Advisor is a great resource for comparing and shopping for the perfect insurance policy for your best friend!
Do I need to microchip my puppy?
Microchipping your pet is an optional service in the US. Microchips are small chips, implanted below the skin layer that carry a unique identification number for your pet. These numbers can be read using a special scanner. If a missing pet is scanned, there are databases that can be accessed in order to obtain the owner’s information. Microchips, however, are NOT GPS trackers, where you can easily locate your pet if they go missing. Instead, think of them as an electronic name tag, where their information can be found, even if they lose their collar.
Microchips are also very important for purposes involving travel. Many countries require health certificates and microchip identification for traveling pets.
Often, the microchips are placed at the time of your puppy’s spay/neuter due to the needle size and moderate discomfort. However, they can be placed as young as 8-10 weeks of age in certain circumstances.
It’s VERY important to ensure that your puppy’s microchip information and ID number correctly match your contact information (address, phone number, etc.). Update this info anytime it changes. This will ensure that you can be contacted if your missing puppy is found!
When should my puppy be spayed or neutered?
Spaying or neutering your dog has many health benefits. Dogs are often spayed/neutered between 4 months and 12 months. For the greatest health benefits, it should be done under one year of age (except in giant breed dogs, which should be discussed with your vet).
Spaying your female dog before her first heat cycle can reduce the risk of mammary (breast tissue) cancer, one of the most common cancers in dogs that are not spayed. It will also prevent false pregnancies and pyometra, a dangerous infection of the uterus. If not spayed, female dogs will go through a “heat cycle” where they’ll have vaginal bleeding for a few weeks before ovulating. Due to the changes that occur inside the dog’s body, it’s not typically recommended to spay female dogs while in heat, as they are at a higher risk of bleeding.
In male dogs, neutering is often performed during a similar time frame. The behaviors and health benefits are less dramatic than female dogs, but major links to things like aggression, humping behaviors, roaming, and certain cancers have been noted in dogs that have not been neutered. It’s important to note as well, that a male dog who hasn’t been neutered can smell a female “in heat” up to 4 miles away! This is often a cause for their escape from their homes and, tragically, vehicle accidents.
In giant breed or large breed dogs, there is a benefit to waiting for spaying or neutering after at least 1 year of age. Due to their large amount of growth and slow complete growth, studies have shown that certain bone diseases can be reduced by waiting to spay or neuter. These guidelines should be discussed with your vet during your pet’s visits to help plan for the safest approach to spaying or neutering.
What should I feed my puppy?
It can be difficult to choose the right diet for your puppy or dog when there is such a huge variety of pet food available. Your puppy’s needs will change throughout her life. Different species and breeds may require different diets. For example, a large breed puppy (over 55 pounds when an adult) requires a large breed puppy food. This is important because there is a link between joint disease and what your dog was fed as a puppy.
Your breeder should tell you what your puppy has been fed. We recommend that you continue feeding this diet for at least the first week after bringing the puppy home before weaning them onto the complete diet of your choice. Slowly introduce an increased amount of the new food by mixing it in gradually over 7-10 days. Any abrupt diet change (especially in puppies!) can cause an upset stomach, including vomiting and diarrhea.
Although there are many different pet food companies on the market, not all pet food is created, or formulated equally. The FDA guidelines for pet food formulation aren’t as strict as most pet owners would assume, and many diets haven’t been through the rigorous testing that’s meant to ensure their safety and palatability. Due to this, we recommend sticking with the companies that have veterinary nutritionists who develop the diets, along with testing and data to support the safety of the products. At a minimum, the food you select should have the “AAFCO Feeding Statement” on its label. This is a statement guaranteeing the food is complete and balanced for the stage of life it is marketed for (puppy, adult, senior).
Your puppy will need constant access to fresh, clean water from a clean bowl. Choose food and water bowls that are easy to clean; ideally use stainless steel or heavy pottery bowls. Throw out any uneaten food after your puppy has finished so that it doesn’t attract flies or start to go stale or moldy. Bowls should be washed daily.
How much should I feed my puppy?
Once you’ve selected your food, the label should assist you in determining the correct amount of calories and nutrients for your puppy (which should be clearly visible on the packaging). Puppy diets contain high-quality protein to support healthy tissue and organ development, and high levels of essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and iron. They also contain proper amounts of vitamin D to help build strong bones and teeth. Due to this, additional supplements aren’t recommended unless done so by your vet, as the ratios of these nutrients are important factors in growing at a healthy pace!
Puppies have small stomachs so feed them small amounts at regular intervals. In particular, small breed puppies such as chihuahuas and Yorkshire terriers are at risk for episodes of low blood sugar. Until about four months of age, a puppy should be fed at least three to four meals a day (more for the teacup breeds!) Reduce feedings to two to three meals a day until six months of age. Thereafter, feed two meals a day.
Puppies are best fed in a quiet place. Avoid feeding them immediately before or after exercise and allow them to ‘rest and digest’ after eating. To prevent travel sickness, avoid feeding your puppy immediately before traveling.
Can my puppy have treats?
Treats are useful for training purposes but shouldn’t be given in large volumes. Many companies make soft, breakable “training treats” that are great for reward, with slightly fewer calories. Positive reinforcement (rewards!) are excellent for teaching new things, but be aware that if given too many, your pet may greatly exceed their normal calorie requirement. Make sure that the treats are suitable for your puppy’s age and size, and only give them chews that they can easily enjoy and digest.
If you find your puppy is gaining too much weight, remember that the amount of food stated on the food packaging is only a suggestion. Your vet can help in adjusting your feeding amount if your puppy’s body condition is slightly too heavy or too thin.
A word about Grain-Free Diets:
A common fad in the pet food industry has been the introduction of “grain-free” or boutique diets. Recently, there was a discovery that linked many of these diets with severe and nutritionally-linked heart disease that has been fatal in many pets. Due to this, we strongly recommend a commercial diet with the scientific formulation as discussed above. For more information on this, see the FDA website.
When do puppies get their adult teeth?
Puppies lose their baby teeth between 3 and 6 months of age. Puppies are generally mouthy at this age, so provide lots of safe toys that are no harder than their teeth, and safe from the risk of being swallowed or accidentally ingested. Common safe toys are rubber Kongs or bones. Avoid deer antlers, cow femurs, and other hard or easily splintered bones, as these are very common culprits of tooth fractures in dogs!
Getting your puppy used to the handling of his teeth and mouth are key skills to teach him as he grows! As a young puppy, it’s a great idea to get your pet used to brushing his teeth. Pet toothbrushes and tasty-flavored dog toothpaste can be a treat for your pet and will help slow the progression of dental disease as he ages!
Most dogs will have all of their adult teeth by 6 months. Be sure to monitor for signs of missing teeth, bad breath, or signs that their teeth may be causing them pain. If you have any concerns, contact a vet right away.
Want to learn more about your pet’s dental health? Check out our series of dental articles:
When should I start to socialize my puppy?
Socialization is one of the most important things you can do for your puppy. It helps them become friendly and outgoing. When socializing a puppy, the goal is to get them used to lots of people, situations, and environments. It’s important for them to meet people and other animals, and experience lots of everyday sights and sounds, especially in the first months of life.
A well-socialized puppy is more likely to grow up to be confident and friendly with people and other dogs. Alternatively, a lack of socialization can be permanently damaging to a dog’s mental health, leading to problems such as aggression, anxiety, and fear.
Socialization should begin at an early age with humans (kids and adults) and should then expand to many different dogs and animals once your pup is fully vaccinated (usually around 16-18 weeks). A great way to socialize with other pets is through a puppy training class. Here, you will also learn tips to teach your pup basic skills and commands. Make socialization fun, and reward your puppy often for his bravery with love, attention, and treats!
For more training tips, check out these helpful articles:
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