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Puppy Care Basics: Get Started on the Right Track

Puppy Basics

Getting starting on the right track for the healthcare of your new puppy

If you recently adopted a new puppy into your family, you should have a healthcare plan in place to keep your puppy healthy and happy for the many years to come. Puppies are very adaptable, but can be susceptible to problems, and getting started on the right path is important.

The first few days:
The first few days are a big change for everyone. The puppy is experiencing new sights, sounds, and people, and often a new diet. There is an adjustment period where you may see diarrhea or soft stool from all the changes. It is important to schedule your new puppy’s first veterinary visit for a checkup during this time, and bring a stool sample just in case! Intestinal parasites can also cause diarrhea in puppies and the stool will be screened for any parasite segments or eggs.

Puppy Vaccines

Vaccines are given to create a good immune response in your puppy against common diseases, including distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis. Puppies need a series of boosters in order to receive the best immunity. Generally vaccinations are started at 6-8 weeks of age and continued every 3-4 weeks until the puppy is 16 weeks old. The Rabies vaccine is given around 16 weeks of age and is boostered in a year. Other vaccines to consider include the Bordetella vaccine and the Rattlesnake vaccine. Talk with your veterinarian to make the best vaccination schedule for your puppy.

Preventatives

Dogs and puppies are susceptible to internal and external parasites and should be on monthly prevention to avoid the parasites and the diseases that they can cause.Depending on the product, puppies can be started as early as 4 weeks.

  • Fleas: These animals are small blood-sucking parasites that can cause itching, allergies, and in high enough numbers, weakness and anemia. They can live and develop in the environment especially inside of your home, and only need to be on your pet for a blood meal. Flea prevention can be in the form of a topical or oral medication and is often combined with other preventatives.
  • Ticks: Ticks are larger than fleas and are usually picked up by dogs outdoors. They will attach to your pet where they suck blood and fill up then drop off to reproduce. They carry serious disease including Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis. These diseases cause fever and illness that can be life-threatening. Like flea prevention, tick prevention can be oral or topical and is often combined with other preventatives.
  • Intestinal worms: Puppies can pick up intestinal worms (roundworms and hookworms) from the environment or sometimes from the milk of their mom if she is infected too. Tapeworms are carried by fleas or by rodents and rabbits. Worms live in the intestines of your puppy where they consume nutrients or sometimes suck blood. A stool sample should be brought to the veterinarian with your puppy to identify intestinal worms and a dewormer may be prescribed. This medication will kill the worms in the intestine of your puppy. Deworming medication can be found in monthly preventatives, often combined with heartworm prevention.
  • Heartworm: Heartworms live in the heart of dogs and can be acquired at any age. The larvae of the worm is carried by mosquitos and transmitted to you dog when an infected mosquito bites them. The worms live and reproduce inside of the heart and create a burden on the blood flow and heart muscle. Without treatment heartworm disease can eventually lead to heart failure. A monthly prevention is given to kill any larval heartworms in your dog’s system. It will not treat adult heartworms; the treatment is hard on dogs and can be costly. A heartworm test, looking for adult heartworms, is recommended prior to starting prevention and then every 1-2 years for the life of your dog. Puppies 6 months or younger can start on heartworm prevention without a test because there has not been enough time for an adult heartworm to develop. Heartworm prevention is by prescription only and is in chewable or topical form. It is often combined with other preventatives.

Socializing Your Puppy

Your puppy will be learning and soaking up everything as it grows and should be meeting new people and other animals in order to help them become non-fearful, well-socialized adults. Care should be taken, however, if the puppy has not received all of his or hers first vaccines. It takes the immune system about two weeks to mount a good response, so they are not considered fully protected until two weeks after their last vaccine. Puppy classes are a good way to meet new people and other puppies in a safe environment. Make sure the class checks that everybody is up-to-date on their vaccines before entering. Dog parks and walking where other animals frequent should be avoided until your puppy is a bit older and fully protected.

Training Your Puppy

Along with potty-training and obedience training, you should teach your puppy to be comfortable with their regular grooming and healthcare exams. Introduce your puppy to getting its mouth opened, its feet touched, and  nails clipped. Teeth brushing can start early and can be a fun experience if everyone is comfortable with it. Especially if you have a puppy with long hair, brushing your puppy early will keep him or her comfortable with regular grooming. It’s always stressful to your pet, to you, and to your pet’s healthcare team if they were never introduced to things commonly done during a physical exam.

Pet Microchip

While your puppy is growing, you should consider if you want to get him or her microchipped. A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and is inserted under your pet’s skin. A veterinarian or animal shelter can scan your pet for a microchip if it is ever lost. Collars and tags don’t always stay on an animal, but a microchip will be present for life. The scanner will pick up a series of numbers from your pet’s chip that can be traced back to you. It is important to register your information with your pet’s microchip so that it is easily found, and make sure to change the information if you move!

Spaying/Neutering

Spaying or neutering puppies is done to prevent unwanted pregnancies, behavior problems, and reproductive disease later in life.  We generally recommend dogs be spayed or neutered at around 4-6 months of age. A great article about spaying and neutering can be found an AAHA’s “Pets Matter” blog.

Cost of Healthcare

Another important thing to consider when you get a new puppy is about the cost of the care of your puppy through its lifetime. You should be prepared if the worst happens and your pet gets sick or has an emergency. Elderly dogs have more potential for disease, but puppies can run into problems also. Dogs that like to eat strange things, for example, can require surgery if they get something stuck in their intestines. Pet insurance is a good option for financing the healthcare costs of your new best friend.

Tami Mares-Ziehmn, DVM
Prescott Animal Hospital