Trying to raise a puppy right can be an incredibly challenging task but one that is infinitely rewarding as well. One of the cornerstones of good health for your puppy is regular veterinary care, the following is a list of the veterinary or health related concerns that will come up during your puppy’s first year.
1. Find a great veterinarian
Ideally you want to find out which veterinarian you plan on using before you get your puppy. Ask your friends that are dog owners which veterinarians they recommend. If possible, visit the clinic beforehand and look around, is the waiting area clean, is the staff courteous and helpful? Look for the veterinarian’s diploma to see when they graduated. Veterinarians that graduated a long time ago may have a lot of experience but may not be as up to date on medical knowledge and technology as recent graduates while recent graduates have a lot of the latest information but may not have a lot of hands on experience. Find out if the office hours will fit your schedule and if they handle emergencies after hours. Many practices have multiple vets, it is best to stick with one veterinarian who knows your pet well so ask the staff if you will be able to request an appointment with a specific veterinarian. Picking a vet is a personal choice, try to find one that is relaxed, really listens to you, thoughtfully answers your questions and generally puts you at ease. If your first veterinarian makes you uncomfortable in any way keep looking until you find one that is a good fit for you and your puppy.
2. Financial concerns
Consider getting pet health insurance for your puppy. They can ease the cost of veterinary care especially if emergencies occur. Far too often I have seen new owners in the emergency room with a very sick puppy and insufficient funds because they just spent all their money on purchasing the puppy and puppy supplies. Expect to spend several hundred dollars a year minimum for routine veterinary care and set aside one to two thousand dollars for emergencies.
Newborn puppies do not have innate immunity at birth; they get antibodies from the mother which helps protect them from disease while their immune system develops. Vaccinations are a vital part of your puppy’s veterinary care that will help prevent serious disease. Vaccines can be core or non-core. Core vaccines are those that have been recommended by the AVMA to be given to all dogs. These include vaccinations for distemper, adenovirus-2, canine parvovirus-2 and rabies. Non-core vaccines include leptospirosis, Lyme disease and Bordetella for example and are recommended for dogs in specific geographic locations or have lifestyle factors that will increase their risk of exposure to that pathogen. Your veterinarian will go over the non-core vaccines that are recommended for your puppy and the vaccination schedule. Several boosters will be necessary over the course of the first year in order to provide ideal immunity for your puppy.
Many puppies already have intestinal parasites contracted from the mother before they are even born. Therefore it is important to have your vet deworm your puppy regularly and perform fecal exams to ensure that treatment is complete. Left untreated intestinal parasites such as roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms and hookworms can cause anemia and weight loss which can be fatal. Common intestinal parasites of dogs can cause problems in people as well so not only do they affect your puppy’s health but yours as well and anyone that may be exposed to the puppy’s feces. Regular deworming and picking up after your puppy can go a long way in minimizing zoonotic disease.
Another problematic worm is Dirofilaria immitis better known as the heartworm. Unlike the previous parasites this one lives within the circulatory system and prefers the chambers of the heart. Dirofilaria is spread by various mosquitoes and is endemic throughout the United States. With the gradual warming of our climate mosquitoes are staying active longer each year therefore year-round heartworm prophylaxis is recommended. The American Heartworm Society recommends that puppies be started on prophylaxis no later than 8 weeks of age.
As with heartworm, preventing flea and tick infestations is far easier than treating them. Your veterinarian has a variety of topical products that can be safely applied to puppies eight weeks and older. Keep your lawn short and keep your puppy out of bushes and woody areas. Treat the environment by washing bedding regularly and vacuuming carpets to remove eggs and larvae.
Spaying or neutering your puppy provides numerous health benefits and should be considered if you are not planning on breeding your dog. Healthy puppies can be neutered as young as 8 weeks although some veterinarians prefer to wait until 4-6 months of age. Spaying should be performed before the first heat when possible because it will virtually eliminate the risk of developing mammary cancer at a later age.
8. Diet and weight
Puppies eight weeks and older should be fed a high quality puppy food. Regular adult dog food will not provide your puppy with the energy and calcium that your puppy’s growing body needs. Follow the label recommendations and your vet’s guidelines to determine how much to feed your puppy. Ideally, puppies should be fed three to four time a day until they are at least six months of age when you may decrease the feeding schedule to twice a day is so desired. Ask your veterinarian if your puppy is at a healthy weight.
Your puppy’s deciduous teeth will erupt between three to eight weeks of age and around four to six months of age these teeth will be replaced by permanent teeth. The first teeth to be replaced are usually the central incisors. You will know when your puppy is teething because you will notice increased chewing. It is important to never leave your puppy unsupervised and is doubly important during teething. Besides the general destruction a teething puppy can cause they can occasionally ingest objects that may cause obstruction or toxic items. Other hazards include chewing on electric cords which can lead to fatal pulmonary edema. Give plenty of toys for the teething stage; there are specially designed toys for teething puppies at major pet stores. Teething usually last a few weeks to a month. It is important to have your veterinarian monitor the teeth as they come in because sometimes deciduous teeth can be retained which can cause problems down the road.
10. Puppy proofing
While it is important to see your veterinarian regularly for wellness you want to avoid emergencies as much as possible. Take a good look around your home to see the potential hazards to an inquisitive puppy. Consider toxins such as household plants and cleaning supplies and keep them out of reach. Use baby gates to block off access to stairs to prevent falls and to limit access to rooms that are not “puppy safe” such as the basement or workshop. Small objects such as change, jewelry, hair ties should also be kept out of reach lest they be swallowed. Take garbage out regularly and consider using garbage pails with heavy lids that the puppy can’t open. Screen off the fireplace if you have one. Again the best way to keep your puppy out of trouble is to never leave him unsupervised and to use a crate when he cannot be watched.