Slideshow Pictures: Pet Health -- Taking Care of Your Puppy
Reviewed by Katherine Scott, DVM, DACVIM on Monday, July 11, 2011
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A wriggly puppy offers us boundless love and cuddles. It gives us a sense of purpose and fulfillment, too. But did you know owning a pet can also boost your immunity, lower your blood pressure, and reduce anxiety and depression, all in one fuzzy package? If you're ready to bring home a puppy, here's what you need to know, from adoption to training to keeping puppy safe.
Before Adoption: First Know Thyself
Before bringing home a puppy, get to know yourself a little better. Why do you want a dog? Will you have the time, space, and money to care for and play with your pup? Which breed do you want? Know the answers before you start looking because "once you look, you are going to bring home a puppy!" says Carrie Damewood, DVM, an Oregon veterinarian. You want to make sure your choice is for life -- the dog's life.
Tips for Adopting a Puppy
You've got a lot of options when choosing a puppy: Shelters, breeders, rescue groups. Because there are millions of homeless pets, it's a great idea to adopt from a shelter or breed rescue group. If you choose your puppy from a breeder, the ASPCA suggests looking for a small-scale breeder, one who never sells to dealers or pet shops. Be sure you can visit the breeder's home and kennel, as well as the mother or relatives of your dog.
Preparing for Your Puppy's Arrival
You'll need a few things before bringing home your precious new pup, including puppy food; a leash and a collar with identifying tags that include your phone number and your vet's number; water and food bowls; a place for your puppy to sleep; brushes for grooming; a folding gate to confine your puppy to one area; and of course lots of chew toys for your new four-legged friend.
Puppy-Proofing the House
Like babies, puppies explore with their mouths. To keep them safe you'll need to follow some precautions before bringing your puppy home, including: Remove breakables; be sure your puppy can't reach electrical cords; keep low windows closed. Also lock away motor oil, antifreeze, and kitchen and garage cleaning supplies, as well as drugs of all kinds. Trash that is dangerous to puppies should be tossed into a tall garbage can that your puppy can't reach.
Do Puppies Need Puppy Food?
Puppies really do need food specially designed for their smaller bodies, says Linda P. Case, co-author of Canine and Feline Nutrition. That's because a growing puppy needs more protein and calories than an adult dog, and a puppy's smaller mouth and weaker jaw requires a kibble made for their chewing ability. Don't forget that puppies also need plenty of fresh, clean water.
How Much Food Does Puppy Need?
Dogs are "what we call voracious eaters" says Case, and will eat a lot if the food is available. For this reason it's a good idea to avoid feeding your puppy buffet-style. Another reason is so you can watch your pup eat -- a good way to keep tabs on your fuzzy friend's health. How much food a puppy needs depends on its breed; use the suggestions on the pet food as a starting point, but know that some pups need less than recommended, others more.
Dog Beds and Crates
Puppies may sleep from 14 to 20 hours a day, so keeping them comfortable while they snooze is important. For bonding, many experts suggest that your puppy sleep in your bedroom at first, whether in their own bed or a crate. If you use a crate, use it only for sleeping, housebreaking, and travel. Dogs aren't meant to live in crates, so experts suggest using a crate judiciously.
Inside or Outside?
You'll need to decide if your pup will be an indoor or outdoor dog. Dogs are pack animals and do best when they're with their pack -- you. If you keep your dog outdoors often, make that adjustment slowly, and always make time for daily walks and play. A fenced yard is vital to keeping your dog safe, and be sure the yard has an enclosed, dry, draft-free spot to keep your dog warm, as well as a shaded area to keep them cool. And make available plenty of fresh water.
Bringing Your Puppy Home
Your puppy's first days in their new home are scary, so give them lots of loving attention. Play with them often, and bring your puppy's bed or crate into your bedroom at night, so they can be near you. Soon after your puppy settles in, schedule their first vet visit. This visit is important, says Damewood. "We'll make sure there's no health problems with your new friend, and we'll talk about nutrition, housebreaking, and what to expect from your puppy.'
Tips on Housebreaking a Puppy
Your puppy doesn't want to make a mess where she lives, so it's up to you to show her the right thing to do. Two signs your pup needs to potty: Sniffing the ground to find a likely spot, and/or racing around frantically. When you see this behavior, pick your puppy up and place the little one on a newspaper or outside. After your puppy has peed in the right place, offer praise. Puppies relieve themselves every few hours, so expect accidents along the way!
Obedience and Training
"I recommend every puppy go to obedience classes," says Damewood, "even if you can teach them yourself, the puppy will benefit from the social side of classes, they'll get to work things out when there's chaos around, and most importantly it'll help you stay on track and do your homework." With a little time, kindness, and patience, you can teach your rambunctious, rough-and-tumble puppy what good behavior is.
The Importance of Play
Ask any puppy and they'll tell you: Playing is fun! Devoting time daily to playing with your pup helps them in many ways: They expend energy, satisfy their inquisitive nature, develop physical coordination and importantly, bond with you. When you play, use toys as toys, not your puppy's leash, your hands, or anything else you don't want your puppy to grow up thinking of as quarry.
Walking Your Puppy
Even if your puppy has a great yard, you'll need to take your little one for walks -- and this holds true once they're grown, too. Walks give dogs exercise and mental stimulation, let them interact with other dogs met along the way, and allow them to leave scent markings, which can be important for a male dog's sense of self. Aim for no less than 60 minutes daily, broken into two to four walks.
Keeping Kids and Puppies Safe
They can look as cuddly and soft as teddy bears, but puppies aren't toys. As much as kids and canines love to play together, a young dog is still learning the ropes and may respond to rough-housing, well, roughly. There's also the chance that energetic kids could play too hard with their still-growing pup. The solution is to supervise puppies and children at all times so that they both stay safe.
Caring for Puppy's Coat and Claws
Brushing your pup's coat daily will help them get used to grooming, but talk to your vet about the right brush and frequency for your dog's breed. You'll also want to keep the nails short, as too-long nails can put stress on a dog's wrist joints, as well as damage people and furniture. Trim nail tips weekly, and start while your pup is young so they'll be comfortable with clipping early on. Ask your vet to show you proper technique.
Food Harmful to Your Puppy
Of course you love sharing, but feeding your puppy from your plate is a bad idea. First, it can make your little one a beggar -- a habit that's hard to break! Another reason is that some foods can be toxic to pets, including grapes, raisins, tea, alcohol, garlic, onions, avocados, salt, and chocolate. Call the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 or your veterinarian right away if you think your pup has eaten something dangerous.
A Note About Chocolate
Chocolate's danger to dogs comes from how slowly they metabolize theobromine, one of its components. Though a little chocolate won't hurt, a dog's tendency to devour the food in front of them means you should always keep chocolatey things safely out of your puppy or dog's reach. Always call the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 or your veterinarian right away if you think your puppy has eaten something dangerous.
Plants Harmful to Your Puppy
Remember, puppies like to chew on just about everything -- including yard and house plants. Some of these plants can be harmful to your furry friend, including lily of the valley, oleander, azalea, yew, foxglove, rhododendron, rhubarb leaves, and shamrock. If you think your puppy has eaten a poisonous plant, call your veterinarian right away or the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.
6-9 Weeks Old: Time for Vaccines
Vaccinations can really help your puppy stay in tip-top shape. At 6-9 weeks it's time to get them vaccinated against distemper, parainfluenza, canine hepatitis, and the potentially deadly parvovirus. At 12-16 weeks it's also vital to get your puppy immunized against rabies. While there are more vaccine options, these depend on your puppy's exposure risks, so talk to veterinarian about a sensible vaccination schedule for your little one.
Foiling Fleas On Fido
It takes just one flea to start the flea cycle in your home. Signs your puppy may have fleas include: flea "dirt" (tiny black flea droppings), mild redness, severe scratching, and skin infections. To combat fleas, ask your veterinarian to suggest a flea control made expressly for puppies; some even contain medication to prevent heartworms. Always treat all pets in the house for fleas, not just the one that may have them.
What About Intestinal Parasites?
Your puppy will probably need deworming medication at their first vet visit. This is a good idea for your puppy's health, and also because some canine parasites, like roundworm, can pass to humans, causing disease and infection. Though they show few symptoms, nearly all puppies have roundworms. Hookworms (magnified here), voracious blood-eating parasites, are potentially deadly to your pup. Talk to your vet to learn more.
16-20 Weeks Old: Spay or Neuter
So that you won't add to the more than 6 million dogs and cats finding their way into shelters every year, it's a great idea to spay or neuter your puppy. Spaying can be done as early as two months, but most vets wait between four and six months, just before many dogs become sexually mature. If cost is a problem, call your local humane society or shelter, or call toll-free (800) 248-SPAY to find a low-cost spay program near you.
How to Tell When Your Puppy Is Sick
Dogs often won't show it when they're feeling ill, doing their best to remain social when their people are around. That's why it's important you know the signs of illness in puppies and dogs. These can include not eating, eating less, lethargy, vomiting, fever, loose stool, diarrhea, or sleeping a lot more. If you see any of these signs, call your veterinarian.
Tips for Picking a Vet
Just like you did when looking for a family physician, it's a great idea to ask friends for recommendations when looking for a veterinarian. Once you have a few choices, visit each clinic. You want one that's well-managed and looks and smells clean. The vet should listen to you and answer questions clearly. Does the vet like dogs? Is the staff friendly? Just as with your own doctor, be sure you feel comfortable with the vet you choose.
Enjoy the Journey!
Puppies don't stay little for long! Be sure you're there for it all and make every day count for you and your little one with plenty of love, appropriate discipline, and play!