Getting a new puppy is by far one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences one can have. However, it takes a lot of work to take care of a puppy, keep them healthy, and get them on the right track to becoming the best four-legged companion they can be. The following is a basic guide with some of my personal recommendations of what every new puppy owner should do to help keep their puppies healthy and happy as they are developing!
FIND A GOOD VETERINARIAN
This to me is by far THE most important thing to do when you have or are expecting a new puppy. Do your research and find a veterinarian who makes you feel confident and comfortable. Your veterinarian will be an invaluable resource through the puppy-hood experience! I recommend taking your new puppy to your veterinarian the day you get it for a thorough exam to check for any issues they might have, help answer your questions, and get you and your new puppy off to a great start. Below is a checklist to make the most out of your veterinary visit with your new puppy.
VETERINARY VISIT CHECKLIST
Thorough physical examination to look for any medical issues and birth defects
The physical exam is one of the most important aspects of any veterinary visit. Your veterinarian will thoroughly inspect your puppy and identify any issues they may see so you can take the correct actions to fix them.
Fecal parasite exam to look for any parasites
Fecal examinations are very important in puppies, as many puppies have some type of intestinal parasites. All puppies need to have fecal parasite examinations performed routinely to identify any parasites they have and eliminate them. If your puppy has parasites, don’t worry! Your veterinarian will provide you with the proper medications to remedy the problem.
Your veterinarian will perform a risk exposure evaluation to determine which vaccines your puppy needs based on where you live, the type of activities your dog may engage in, and what they may potentially be exposed to. They will help put together a plan for when and how often they will need puppy shots and get them on track if they are due for vaccines!
Heart worm, Flea, and Tick Prevention
Most veterinarians will start puppies on heart worm and flea/tick prevention around 8-9 weeks of age. Discuss the different products your veterinarian carries to determine what is the best choice for your pet. Some products can cause an upset stomach and may not be ideal for dogs with sensitive stomachs. Some heart worm products are becoming less effective, so if you live in areas where heart worms are prevalent or where many mosquitoes are found, then these products may not be ideal.
Your veterinarian can help you make a choice regarding what food to feed your puppy, how much to feed them, and how often they should be fed.
Ask your veterinarian about signs to watch for in your puppy and any breed issues you should know about
Your veterinarian can educate you about what signs to watch for that might indicate your puppy may be sick and needs to see the vet. In addition, they can help inform you about health conditions common to your puppy’s breed so you can be prepared about what to watch for as they grow!
In general, these are signs your puppy might be sick and should see the veterinarian
Vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty urinating or defecating, swollen or tense abdomen, weakness, difficulty walking, lethargy (tiredness), coughing/wheezing, abnormal breathing, pale gums, red eyes/squinting/eye discharge, discharge from their nostrils, poor weight gain, or other signs of failure to thrive or illness.
Find out when to spay or neuter your dog
For most dogs, we recommend spaying or neutering them at a certain age. Some puppies may have medical conditions that may mean waiting longer to get them fixed. Your veterinarian can help determine when this should be done based on your puppy’s health, behavior, and your future plans for them!
Your arms, legs, furniture, and wood floors will thank you for making sure your puppy’s little talons are trimmed, and your veterinarian can show you how to trim them at home yourself!
Ask for recommendations for local dog trainers and groomers
As veterinarians, we always hear from our clients about the good and bad experiences for anyone in the dog business in our area, so we typically have a good idea on who may be a good fit for you and your pup as far as dog trainers and groomers go!
That’s right, you need to do some research. Well, you need to do a LOT of research. The more educated you are, the better your puppy experience will be and the less likely you will have any major issues come up! Every dog and dog breed is different, so I recommend doing some research and becoming very educated on your puppy’s breed to be aware of any issues they may have both health and behavior-wise. If you have a mixed breed dog, you are lucky, as they typically have fewer genetic health issues to worry about! Your veterinarian can help you make a good guess on what type of breed your dog may be a mix of, and you can do some research from there. On top of learning about your dog’s breed and issues they may face, there is ample general information out there to help you become as educated as you can on all things dog related!
BE PREPARED FOR EMERGENCIES
Make sure you know what your veterinarian’s hours are and ask them (or do some research) about where the nearest after hours emergency clinic is in case you ever need it. The last thing you want to do is waste time having to Google search to find the nearest clinic open after hours when your puppy is in an emergency situation where time is of the utmost importance!
KNOW WHAT TO FEED YOUR PUPPY
When a puppy is young and developing is the most important time in their life to make sure they are fed a high quality diet. Your veterinarian can make recommendations on foods, and there is a plenty of information and reviews of all the pet food companies online (as always, take what you read online with a grain of salt as you will find it almost impossible to find a dog food that there is not one negative thing said about it somewhere online). On top of feeding a good food, it is important to feed the right amount of food and how to transition your puppy to a new food as he matures.
How much should I feed my puppy?
The best way to know how much to feed your puppy is to check the chart on the side or back of the bag of food you have. These charts are calculated based on the amount of calories and macro-nutrients specifically for that food. The amount listed in the chart is the TOTAL amount of food that should be fed per day. So if it says 1 cup and you feed your puppy twice a day, feed 1/2 cup in the morning and 1/2 cup at night. It is important to make sure you are not overfeeding your puppy, especially for large and giant breed dogs, as you can cause issues with their joints and bones if they are overfed and grow too quickly. For toy breed dogs like Yorkies, I typically recommend feeding at least 3 times a day while they are very young.
How do I swap my puppy to a new food?
When swapping to a new food I always recommend slowly transitioning from the old food over 7 days to help prevent from upsetting your puppy’s stomach. Sometimes this can’t be avoided if you were not provided with any of the food your puppy was being fed or if you weren’t told what they were eating when you brought them home. If your puppy develops loose stool, it will likely clear up on its own after a few days. Your veterinarian can provide you with medicine and guidance if it becomes severe or does not clear up in a few days.
Day 1 and 2: 75% old food, 25% new food
Day 3 and 4: 50% old food, 50% new food
Day 5 and 6: 25% old food, 75% new food
Day 7+: 100% new food
What kind of bowls should I use?
I always recommend using stainless steel bowls for food and water as these are the best as far as keeping bacteria to a minimum. Ceramic bowls are the second best in my opinion. I am not a fan of plastic bowls, as they often get scuffs and rough areas that can scratch your pet’s chin, holds bacteria, and can lead to developing bumps on their chin. If your dog eats really fast, especially if they throw up after eating sometimes or are very gassy, then I recommend using a slow-feeder bowl that forces them to slow down. These bowls usually have what looks like a maze in the bottom or prongs that stick up that make puppies work to get to all their food so they can’t just shove their face in the bowl and inhale it too fast!
Table scraps/people food
I do not recommend giving your puppy any table scraps or people food for multiple reasons. First and foremost, there are many people foods that are toxic and can be fatal to dogs. Some of these are grapes, garlic, onions, avocados, macadamia nuts, chocolate, coffee, anything with caffeine in it, sugar-free candies and gum that contain xylitol, and other common ingredients. Many of these foods can be FATAL to your puppy. In addition, puppies have sensitive stomachs and even small bites of table food can cause an upset stomach and lead to diarrhea and vomiting.
HOUSEHOLD HAZARDS FOR YOUR PUPPY
Anything that can be swallowed
You would be shocked at how many puppies and dogs we have to take to surgery on a monthly basis to remove objects they swallowed. On top of that, I see several dogs a year who died after choking on objects they tried to swallow. Puppies, just like babies, will put anything in their mouth they can and often swallow them. We have had to surgically remove every kind of object you can imagine — socks, underwear, Legos, Hot Wheel cars, hackie sacks, bottle tops, baby pacifiers, rope, wooden spoons, dog beds, squeakers out of dog toys, bones, rawhides, coins, headphones, and more. If it is small enough your puppy can swallow it, or if your puppy can chew pieces of it off and swallow it, then keep it away from them.
If your puppy vomits multiples times, quits eating, becomes lethargic, or has difficulty defecating, you should take them to your veterinarian ASAP. Time is of the utmost importance when your puppy has swallowed something it shouldn’t have!
Household foods, chemicals, human medicines, and plants:
There are MANY household items which are toxic and can be fatal to your pet which most owners are unaware of. Please click here to read my last article which provides a comprehensive list of the most common household dog toxins:
PLACES TO AVOID WITH YOUR PUPPY
I STRONGLY recommend avoiding taking your puppy to pet stores, dog parks, groomers, and anywhere a lot of dogs congregate that does not require proof of vaccination or where stray dogs have been until they are fully vaccinated. There are many bugs your puppy can pick up despite having had a sets of shots or two already. For example, parvovirus, which can be fatal (and almost always requires a big veterinary bill and a minimum of several days of hospitalization), and can survive for years in the environment (grass, concrete, etc.). So if a dog that had Parvo used the bathroom in front of the pet store or at the dog park two years ago, your puppy could still pick it up. I usually recommend avoiding these places until 7-10 days after your final set of puppy vaccinations.
I hope the above information will help you get started off on the right track with your new puppy! The best way to ensure you have a happy and healthy puppy is to get educated, be prepared, and rely on your veterinarian to help guide you through the process. We here at the DailyBarker want you and your new puppy to have the best experience possible!
If you have any specific puppy questions you wish answered, feel free to comment below!
Spencer Mills, DVM
Dr. Mills is a veterinarian and avid dog lover who is dedicated to helping further educate pet owners on all things health related for their four-legged companions. In addition to practicing in his local vet clinic, Dr. Mills has a mobile house call veterinary business, works with numerous local shelters and rescue organizations, and is in the process of opening an emergency veterinary clinic giving him a wide array of experience in the veterinary field.