Puppy Health Basics

Give your puppy a healthy start by covering these dog basics.

First Veterinarian Visit
The first check-up is crucial to a lifetime of good health habits and maintenance.
Why: Veterinarians spot many health problems right away. If you purchase your puppy from a breeder, you should be able to return her if a serious health problem exists. If you’re already attached to the pup, you can address problems immediately. This first visit also is your opportunity to learn everything you can about proper puppy care.

When: Take your new puppy to the veterinarian within the first 48 hours of acquiring her, preferably before you take her home for the first time.

Remember: Don’t hesitate to ask specific questions about anything from nutrition to grooming to training to the idiosyncrasies of your dog’s breed.

The Veterinarian View: “It’s important to allow enough time for the veterinarian to go over all the issues of having a new puppy,” says Kate Schulze, DVM, “In addition to the basics of puppy care, your veterinarian should discuss behavior training. The No. 1 reason for euthanization is behavior problems, so you need to get off on the right foot in the first eight to 12 weeks so that you can have a long and happy 14 to 16 years with your pet.”

Proper nutrition is essential for your fast-growing pup’s healthy development.

Why: Different breeds have slightly different nutritional requirements, but puppies generally need three times the calories of an adult dog of equal weight. Pups also have higher calcium, energy, and protein requirements. Inadequate portions and diets compromise growth and development.

When: Puppies must eat more frequently than adults because their higher metabolism digests food quickly and smaller stomach holds less. Feed new puppies four times a day and gradually decrease the number to two per day by the end of the first year.

Remember: Avoid overfeeding. Diets too high in calories can compromise bone growth in larger breeds and lead to orthopedic problems.

The Veterinarian View: “There isn’t one food that is right for every single pet,” says Eric Eisen, DVM. “Some dogs do well on super-premium foods; others won’t touch them. And, when switching foods, do so gradually over 10 to 14 days by replacing increasingly larger amounts of the old food with new food.”

Take your puppy to be spayed or neutered in the first year.

Why: Thousands of unwanted puppies are born each day in the United States. Most will face euthanization due to a lack of adoptive homes. By spaying or neutering your pet, you are helping to minimize the homeless dog population.

When: The American Veterinary Medical Association endorses spaying/neutering for dogs as early as 8 weeks old. Many veterinarians prefer to wait until 4 to 6 months—when vaccinations are completed and the puppy is stronger and better able to withstand the anesthesia.

Remember: Sterilization offers behavioral advantages. Females’ risk of pregnancy is spared, males’ aggressive behavior tempered, the urge to breed eliminated. Males and females will have a lesser tendency to wander when the female is in season.

The Veterinarian View: “Spaying or neutering has many long-term health benefits,” Dr. Eisen says. “The chance of mammary cancer—one of the top cancers in unspayed females is almost completely eliminated. Uterine infections, uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer are also virtually eliminated. In males, [risk of] prostate problems, rectal tumors and testicular cancers [is] eliminated, and in dogs with existing rectal tumors, neutering often is the only necessary cure.”

Most veterinarians agree vaccinations are a necessary element of preventive health care.

Why: Puppies are born with weak immune systems and need extra protection from serious and often fatal diseases and conditions.

When: Veterinarians’ vaccination schedules vary, but most recommend a program administered several times in the first four to six months (beginning at about 6 weeks of age) to protect against five to seven diseases and conditions. The first rabies vaccine is usually given at 6 months and repeated every one to two years, depending on state law.

Remember: Controversy about vaccines has developed because of negative reactions in some dogs — especially those in poor health. However, most veterinarians agree the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. Talk to yours if you are concerned about over-vaccination.

Pest Prevention
Formulate a pest control regimen before your puppy comes in contact with a single flea or tick. Heartworms, which can be fatal, also require preventive measures.

Why: Puppies are susceptible to flea- and tick-borne infection and disease because their immune systems aren’t fully mature. Left unchecked, fleas can cause tapeworm and/or severe allergic reactions. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, tick paralysis, anemia, and several other serious diseases. Heartworms wind themselves into a dog’s heart and may cause irreparable damage or death. However, preventive care is usually all your pup needs to be parasite-free.

When: Look for fleas and ticks during daily grooming sessions. Spot-on adulticides can be administered anywhere between 7 and 10 weeks. Check the label of the product you are using, or check with your veterinarian. Also, begin heartworm prevention—pills or chewables—at 8 weeks.

Remember: New insect growth regulators and spot-on adulticides are the cutting edges of pet pest control. Following the directions on the packaging yields a virtually pest-free existence for most dogs.

The Veterinarian View: “When we talk to new puppy owners, we always talk about pest control and strongly recommend that as soon as a pup turns 8 weeks old she be started on a year-round regimen of an insect growth regulator and heartworm prevention,” says Jay Empel, DVM.

Eve Adamson

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