Here's a secret - at some point in all of our lives we were all first time puppy owners. Okay, maybe that's not really a secret, but even if you grew up with dogs there comes a time in your life when you bring home that new puppy and your parents aren't around to remind you what to do. Unfortunately, as we all quickly realize, puppies don't come with detailed instructions manuals. What do I do next? What does my puppy need? The good news is that as your veterinarian I'm here to help :-) Read on to learn more...
The Basic Stuff - Diet and House training
Most puppies will have been on a puppy food already, and it's best to keep them on that food for at least the first few days to ease the transition - there will be enough changes with a new house, new family and being away from their puppy siblings, so avoiding too many other changes is nice. When you do decide to switch diets, do so gradually over 1 week to avoid an upset stomach. Don't forget to keep fresh water available (in the summer you can add an ice cube to the water to keep it cool).
A high quality puppy food is recommended for feeding puppies up until 12-18 months of age, depending on their expected adult size. Large breed puppy food is recommended for any puppies that are expected to be over 50lb in adult weight for optimal bone and joint health (but don't worry if your rescue pup ends up being smaller like mine did - it won't cause any problems). I primarily recommend the "veterinary" brands (Purina, Hill's, Iams and Royal Canin) since these companies each have a veterinary nutritionist on staff and we know the diets are formulated for your growing puppy's needs; however there are many other dog foods out there that are also well balanced and we can provide you with recommendations during your first visit. The only foods I do NOT recommend at this time are grain-free diets for puppies, as there are too many questions regarding heart health that have not been answered.
For house training, a good rule of thumb is that your puppy can hold his or her bladder for 1 hour per month of age, so consider keeping a warm sweater nearby and sleeping with your socks on during the chilly winter months. Does your puppy tell you they need to go out but just can't make it to the door? That's a win! Did they make it all the way outside? Even better! Remember to reward all of these little steps of progress - positive reinforcement will go a long way in succeeding in house training (and negative reinforcement will only set a puppy back). Remember to take your puppy outside as soon as they wake up, immediately after eating, and after any long sessions of playing. Wait for them to go to the bathroom before playing with them so they learn what to do first - then reward them and play with them outside.
The Medical Stuff - Vaccines and Preventative Care
So you bought the food, set up the crate, laid out the dog bed, and gathered up the toys. Now, to keep your new puppy healthy. Often times, puppies will come with an initial examination or vaccination before they arrive in your arms - yes, even Santa has a visiting veterinarian (who do you think keeps the reindeer healthy?). When you schedule your first veterinary appointment, it's important to have these records on hand so we review what has already been done. **Important Note - I highly recommend that you schedule your first visit as soon as you know when you're bringing your new puppy home. Most wellness visits are scheduled 4-6 weeks out, and if your puppy's breeder or adoption contract requires an initial visit within those first 3-7 days you'll have to have that planned in advance.**
During the first visit, we'll start with a head to tail examination. This is where we'll check for congenital issues (things the puppy may have been born with) such as heart murmurs, cleft palates, hernias, and joint issues, among others. While it may look like I'm playing with your puppy as you fill out the registration forms, I'm actually already checking for things like mobility issues, neurologic deficits and behavior concerns.
During this first visit we'll also either start your puppy's vaccinations or schedule the next visit if it's not yet time for a booster. Here is a quick overview of the vaccinations that will be discussed, but you can read more about them in this post.
Distemper/Parvovirus - All puppies need this vaccination every 3-4 weeks until they're 4 months of age for full protection. Parvovirus can be fatal to unvaccinated puppies, but thankfully the vaccine is highly effective when boostered correctly.
Rabies - This vaccination is required by law, and must be given before puppies are 6 months of age (although it's usually administered between 3-4 months of age).
Bordetella - this is the common cause of bacterial kennel cough and there is a vaccination to protect puppies that will be attending obedience or socialization classes, those who will be going to the groomers, or if they will be spending time at a day care or boarding facility.
Leptospirosis - this is a disease that can cause liver or kidney failure and is spread from wildlife through contaminated water. It is becoming more prevalent in the area, and a vaccination that I am recommending for all puppies.
Lyme disease - this disease is spread by ticks and there's a vaccination that can help prevent the disease for dogs at risk.
The other things we'll discuss during your initial visit include:
Heartworm preventatives. These are effective at not only preventing heartworm disease but also providing protection against intestinal parasites.
Flea and tick preventatives. There are many options available, including oral tablets, topical drops and collars, but don't worry - we'll help you decide on the best option for your family.
Microchip Implantation. A microchip is no larger than a grain of rice and once implanted will provide a lifetime of identification for your puppy. These aren't GPS locators, but rather if your puppy runs off and is picked up by a Good Samaritan or brought to a vet clinic or animal control officer they can scan your pet for the microchip and then contact the company for your information. Often times pets will lose their collars when they run off, so having a microchip can help provide some peace of mind.
Feeling overwhelmed? Don't worry - during the first puppy visit I schedule extra time to go over each of these recommendations (for first-time puppy owners, you can expect this first puppy visit to last approximately 1 hour). Any questions that arise after this first visit can be answered during the puppy booster visits (which typically last 30 minutes). My goal is to develop a plan tailor made for your puppy and your lifestyle. No concern is too big, no question is too small - we will answer them all!
Ready to schedule a visit? Fill out the online registration form and we'll be in touch to schedule that first visit. I look forward to meeting you and your new puppy!