How To Take Care Of A Puppy
One of the greatest joys in life is having a cuddly, cute puppy to have and hold. This is a memorable time for the entire family and everyone can participate in loving and caring for your new puppy. Our staff and veterinarians know what an exciting and special time this is for you and we want to provide you with the best information and health care to get a great start for your new puppy's life. The time you commit to this puppy in the beginning of its life will have a great impact on your relationship for the next 12-15 years.
Make The Most Of Your First Visit To The Vet
During your first veterinary visit, we will perform a thorough physical and gather information from you to help get a complete picture of your puppy's health. This is also your opportunity to gather all of the important puppy care information you need to be an informed, responsible and loving guardian to that puppy. Plan to spend one hour with us on the first visit and bring everyone in the family who will be taking an active role in the puppy's care. Below are some of the topics we will want to address at the first visit:
- Vaccination plans and schedules
- Safe options for diagnosing and treating internal and external dog parasites
- Signs of illness
- Spaying or neutering
- Behavior and basic obedience training
- Potty training
- Puppy diets
While most of these considerations and recommendations are the same for all puppies, our veterinarians will take into account factors such as breed, age, your lifestyle and any current health or behavioral issues to make recommendations that will be tailored to your puppy's needs.
Quality Puppy Food Makes A Big Difference
Understanding puppy food is a huge part of responsible puppy care. After all, your puppy's body is growing in ways that will directly impact his or her quality of life for many years to come. It is important that you choose a puppy food that has been specifically formulated for young and growing dogs. Always look for a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) that ensures the puppy food you choose meets or exceeds nutritional requirements for growing canine bodies.
- Small and medium-sized dogs can be weaned off of puppy food, and onto adult dog food between 9 and 12 months of age
- Large breed dogs should stick with puppy food until they reach 1 year of age
Make sure your puppy has fresh and abundant water early in the day to help break down the puppy food, as well as to keep them hydrated. Having a regular feeding and walking schedule will be a tremendous help with potty training. Puppies will begin to learn, understand and enjoy a scheduled routine.
Also, be sure to follow a structured puppy feeding schedule. Discuss this with one of our veterinarians at your next appointment and ask for personalized advice to ensure you are feeding your puppy properly. The typical puppy feeding schedule would be:
- Age 6-16 weeks: 3-4 meals per day (4 meals only for very small breeds)
- Age 3-6 months: 2-3 meals per day
- Age 6-12 months: 2 meals per day
It is strongly recommended that you do not share food from your plate with your puppy. Puppies will often beg for whatever you are eating and it will be tempting to give them small amounts of your food. While it is not dangerous for them to eat most of what you eat, it is a really tough habit to break as they will begin to think that they should always share in your food.
It is best to stick with a good puppy diet and follow a feeding routine. Begin early training of the puppy on how to behave while you are eating. This may involve crating or asking the puppy to stay outside of the dining room/kitchen until it learns proper behavior.
Start Puppy Potty Training With A Good Bathroom Routine
It usually only takes once or twice of cleaning puppy urine and defecation for owners to realize the importance of potty training. Puppy potty training should begin immediately upon bringing your new canine companion home. The easiest plan for very young puppies is to take them out a lot (hourly for some) where you want them to go and reward with immediate gentle praise after they go to the bathroom.
Please remember that your puppy is not going potty in the house on purpose but because he or she doesn't know any better. Therefore, your best allies during puppy potty training are patience, planning, and plenty of positive reinforcement. Also, do not dwell on negative reinforcement when accidents happen (and they will happen!), because it is essential to maintain a bond of trust and security between puppy and owner during puppy potty training that only compassion and calmness can facilitate. Different sizes and breeds will train differently. We recommend that you work with our recommended dog trainer from a very early age to begin the best habits for that particular puppy.
Crate training is a way to confine the puppy in a small area when it is not being watched so that it does not soil the house or chew up shoes. The crate can be used humanely when the owners are aware of the proper exercise requirements and have set up a schedule for eating and going outside to help with potty training. The crate can become a den for most dogs and greatly aid in the owner's ability to potty train. See handout on crate training for a more thorough explanation to make crate training successful.
Puppy potty training begins with knowing when you should take your puppy outside to do its business. The most common times to take your puppy out to potty are:
- When you wake up (or the puppy wakes up)
- Right before bedtime
- Immediately after your puppy eats or drinks and again 20-30 minutes after
- When your puppy wakes up from a nap
- During and after physical activity
Once your puppy begins its vaccinations, it is ready to begin puppy class with other vaccinated puppies. We recommend that you begin puppy classes at 7-8 weeks and continue from puppy class to the next stage of basic training.
Signs Of Illness In Puppies
Young puppies are susceptible to illnesses and diseases that can be very serious, most of which are entirely preventable. This is why puppy vaccinations are so important. However, puppy vaccinations alone will not prevent all illnesses. The key to preventing illness is being diligent in monitoring your puppy's behavior for symptoms. If you observe any of the following symptoms in your puppy, contact your vet immediately:
- Lack of appetite
- Poor weight gain
- Swollen or painful abdomen
- Lethargy (tiredness)
- Difficulty breathing
- Wheezing or coughing
- Pale gums
- Swollen, red eyes or eye discharge
- Nasal discharge
- Inability to pass urine or stool
These symptoms all indicate urgent or emergency situations and require immediate veterinary care. Should you notice any of these symptoms, please call Riverstone Veterinary Group immediately.
Schedule Puppy Vaccinations
Puppy vaccinations should take place every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks of age during the first several months of life, and continue with booster immunizations throughout adulthood. There are core and non-core puppy vaccinations for your puppy and your veterinarian can help you decide which puppy vaccinations are right for your canine companion. A general puppy vaccinations schedule looks something like this:
- 6-10 weeks: DHPP, Kennel Cough
- 11-14 weeks: DHPP, Leptospirosis, Canine Influenza, Lyme Disease
- 15-16: DHPP, Leptospirosis, Canine Influenza, Lyme Disease, Rabies
It is important to stay current with your puppy vaccinations. Puppy vaccinations have been medically proven to combat so many preventable diseases and illnesses that will occur without proper immunizations. Puppy vaccinations are a huge part of responsible puppy care, and your puppy deserves no less than every chance to be healthy and happy for life.
*Some puppies may need additional vaccinations against parvovirus after 15 weeks of age.
Understanding How To Deal With Puppy Teething
Puppy teething is a normal, albeit annoying and sometimes painful part of having a puppy. It is important to understand that puppy teething is a natural part of the canine growth and maturity process, but also that it is a behavior that can get out of hand without providing proper outlets for a dog during the puppy teething phase.
Almost without exception, puppies are born without teeth. Deciduous teeth, begin to appear at about three weeks of age. By six to eight weeks of age, the puppy will have a full set of 28 baby teeth. This rapid, new growth leads to puppy teething. During puppy teething, your puppy may target all kinds of objects to gnaw and chew to relieve the discomfort associated with growing teeth. Teething is an important part of canine development for the following reasons:
- Biting and nipping is a social moor of the canine culture
- Puppy teething is a way to attract attention
- Puppy teething is a defense mechanism
It is important to provide age appropriate puppy teething devices and toys to your puppy during this time, and also to gently but assertively reinforce that nips and bites to people, property, and other animals is not okay. If you do have other animals present for the puppy teething period in your home, they will do a good job of being assertive too. Just be sure to monitor play between animals in order to ensure that an innocent puppy teething incident does not escalate into something more serious.
When Should You Spay Or Neuter Your Dog
We recommend spaying and neutering between 5-6 months of age. However, with some breeds, there is information that waiting even longer may be the most optimal to avoid certain cancers. Our veterinarians will review this information with your and discuss which breeds may want to consider an alternate plan.
The American Veterinary Medical Association supports early spaying and neutering. Delaying this procedure past sexual maturity can lead to increased incidences of mammary tumors in females, and testicular cancer in males.
In general, puppies recover a lot faster than adult dogs. Therefore, it is an easier surgery for them and one that reduces the rate of disease later on. We absolutely love puppies and dogs of all kinds, but also believe that there are currently too many who end up in shelter situations and euthanized because of failures to control the pet population. For more information on spay or neuter services for your puppy, please visit our spay or neuter page.
Socializing Your Puppy
Early socialization is one of the most important aspects of puppy care. It involves getting your puppy started at 7-8 weeks in a puppy class with a veterinary recommended trainer. Puppies will go through some very important developmental stages as early as 8-12 weeks. It is super important that your puppy experiences safe and varied socializing during this time involving people, dogs and various situations. While many owners feel that they have the experience necessary to provide good socializing, there is no substitute for a puppy class with a good trainer.
During your puppy's visits to our hospital, we will help to identify problem behaviors and help you understand how to deter your puppy from developing bad habits. We will discuss and concerns you may have and offer solutions. We will also provide information you can take home so that everyone in your family can do their part in helping to encourage positive puppy behaviors.
For example, dogs lacking socialization skills are much more likely to react with fear or aggression to unfamiliar people, animals and experiences. Dogs who are relaxed about honking horns, cats, cyclists, veterinary examinations, crowds and long stairwells are easier and safer to live with than dogs who find these situations threatening. Well-socialized dogs also live much more relaxed, peaceful and happy lives than dogs who are constantly stressed out by their environments.
From 8-12 weeks of age, puppies are most comfortable learning new behaviors, having new experiences, and meeting new people or animals. They still might become frightened, but you can help by regulating new situations and providing supportive positive feedback when fear occurs. After 12 weeks of age, puppies begin to become less tolerant of new situations, people and animals, making socialization and obedience training more difficult as time goes on.
How To Schedule Your First Puppy Veterinary Appointment
Scheduling a puppy care appointment with our veterinary team is as easy as picking up the phone, or sending us an email. Our veterinary staff is here to help make your trip to the vet easy for you, while making it as painless and fright-free as possible for your puppy.