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The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Your Puppy

girl carrying pup in field

Setting Your Puppy Up for Success

Adding a new puppy to your household is an exciting event. You can look forward to puppy snuggles, goofy antics, and lots of playtime. Along with the fun parts, however, you can also expect a few sleepless nights, chewed-up shoes, and frantic veterinary calls. But with your guidance, your mischievous puppy can grow into a loyal companion. Puppies will be puppies, but there are many steps you can take to set your new best friend up for success, and ensure a lifetime of health and happiness.

Integrating a new puppy into your household

Whether your new puppy just left their mother’s side, or was rescued from a shelter, coming to your home is a new and daunting experience. It may take time for your puppy to discover how wonderful your home is, and let their true personality shine. Be patient as your new pup navigates this transition, and support them as they grow in confidence. 

You can expect your puppy to whine and cry during the first few nights in your home, especially if they just left their mother. Crate training your puppy can help them feel more secure, and prevent accidents in your home. Dogs appreciate having a “den” of their own, and a crate stocked with blankets and toys will provide comfort and security. Including a blanket with their mother’s scent can help ease the transition. Choose a crate just large enough for your puppy to lie down and turn around in comfortably, or use a larger crate with a divider that can accommodate them as they grow. 

 Puppies have all personality types—some will be eager to meet new people and animals, and others are more reserved. Watch your puppy’s body language, and let them approach people and other pets at their own pace. That being said, it is important to expose your new puppy to as many different people, animals, places, sights, sounds, and smells as possible during the critical socialization period of 3 weeks to 3 months, making each introduction a positive experience so your puppy associates positive feelings with new situations.

Feeding your puppy

With so many options, choosing a diet for your puppy can be overwhelming. Ensure the food you choose is appropriate for your new pet’s life stage and projected adult size. For example, a German shepherd puppy should eat a food specifically formulated for large-breed puppies, as the nutrient composition is designed to prevent medical conditions, such as hip dysplasia, that result from excess nutrient intake during the growth phase.

Establishing healthy eating habits when your puppy is young is important to prevent obesity as an adult dog. Many pet food companies overestimate the amount you should feed your pet, so ask a veterinarian to help you determine an appropriate daily calorie allotment for your puppy as they grow. This calorie amount should be divided into meals, instead of allowing your puppy to free-feed. For example, if you plan to feed your puppy three times per day, divide their total daily calorie allotment by three, and, using the calories per cup found on the dog food label, calculate how many cups of food your pet should receive for each meal. At meal time, measure your pet’s food with a measuring cup to ensure they receive the proper amount, put the food down for 20 to 30 minutes, and remove what they do not eat. Provide plenty of fresh, clean water for your puppy at all times. Eating meals, instead of grazing throughout the day, will also help your puppy develop predictable elimination habits, as they will have to go at similar times each day.

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Housetraining your puppy

Your puppy is not born with the instinct to hold it until they are in an appropriate place to eliminate. They must be taught your house rules. Take your puppy to the location you have chosen for elimination, and tell them to “go potty.” Repeat this process every hour or so until your puppy eliminates, and reward them immediately in this location. Young puppies have small bladders and must go out frequently, particularly after sleeping, eating, and playing. Between trips outside, keep your puppy nearby so you can watch them closely—use a leash or gate them in a room with you, if necessary. Once your puppy understands they should not eliminate in the house, they will be hesitant to do so in front of you, and may sneak off if given the chance.  

When your puppy has an accident, clean it up quickly with an enzyme-based cleaner to completely eliminate the odor, which will remove the temptation for them to go again in the same spot. Accidents are an expected part of housetraining a puppy, and you should never punish your puppy for having an accident.

Teaching your puppy basic commands

Teaching your puppy to obey basic commands will stimulate their brain, establish you as their leader, and keep them safe in various situations. For example, if your dog runs toward the street, you can command them to “come,” and prevent them from being hit by a car. Try teaching your puppy these commands:

  • Sit — Holding a small treat slightly above your puppy’s nose, move slowly toward them and say “sit.” They should naturally sit down, and as your puppy’s rear touches the ground, give them the treat and lots of praise.  
  • Stay — Once your puppy learns to sit, hold your hand out and tell them to “stay.” Release your pup after a few seconds, give them a treat, and gradually work up to farther distances and longer periods. 
  • Come — From across the room or yard, call your puppy’s name and say “come.” Most puppies will naturally come to you, but repeat the command if necessary. Praise your puppy and give them a small treat when they come. 

After your puppy masters these commands, you can add fun tricks, such as “shake,” “high five,” and “roll over” to their repertoire. It is OK to use small, high-value training treats, but remember to subtract the treats from your puppy’s daily calorie allotment to prevent excess weight gain.

Exercising your puppy

Puppies have a lot of energy, and need regular activity to prevent boredom and mischief. High-energy breeds, such as border collies and Jack Russell terriers, can become destructive if not given opportunities to play each day. Regular exercise is also important for your pet’s physical health, and will prevent obesity as they grow into adults. Exercising with your puppy is a great way for you to bond with them, and stay fit. Activities you can engage in together include:

  • Walking
  • Playing fetch
  • Agility
  • Swimming
  • Obedience classes

 

As your puppy grows, consider joining a canine sporting community as a way to meet other dog owners with similar interests, and socialize your dog. Dock diving, treibball, scent tracking, and canine freestyle are a few of the available options. 

As your puppy develops, take care to not exert excessive force on their bones and joints with strenuous exercise. Repetitive stress from running, or similar activities, can cause lifelong joint damage, and predispose your pet to arthritis down the road.

Keeping your puppy healthy and safe

Regular veterinary care is critical to keeping your new puppy healthy throughout their lifetime. Infectious diseases, parasites, and health problems are common in puppies, and regular veterinary care is the best way to ensure as many years as possible with your new best friend. Start a health care routine now to help keep your puppy up to date on vaccines, parasite prevention, and routine health screenings that can save their life.

Regular veterinary visits for your puppy

Your new puppy should visit a veterinarian within one week of joining your family, and will require several appointments to complete their puppy vaccines and other necessary health care. After your puppy completes their initial vaccines, and is spayed or neutered, they should visit the veterinarian at least once a year for booster vaccines, wellness care, and professional dental cleanings.

Vaccines for your puppy

Your puppy will need several rounds of vaccinations to protect them against life-threatening infectious diseases. Puppy vaccines should begin at 6 weeks of age, and are repeated every three to four weeks, until at least 16 weeks of age. A veterinarian will base your puppy’s vaccines on their lifestyle and exposure risk to specific diseases, however all puppies will receive core vaccines, including:

  • Rabies — The rabies virus is spread mainly by wildlife, and is transmitted via bite wounds. Rabies affects a pet’s nervous system, and is always fatal, making vaccination critical. The disease can also be transmitted to people, and is typically fatal.
  • Distemper — The distemper virus is spread via aerosolized respiratory secretions, and affects a pet’s respiratory and nervous systems. It often causes severe disease and death, and pets who survive the initial phase typically develop progressive neurologic degeneration, and eventually die.
  • Hepatitis —Caused by a virus, infectious canine hepatitis causes liver disease, blood clotting issues, and temporary vision problems. Most dogs recover and do not suffer lifelong effects, however, severe cases can become deadly.
  • Parvo — Parvo is a highly infectious disease that is spread through the feces of infected dogs. The canine parvovirus is extremely hardy, and remains infectious in the environment for months to years. Some dog breeds, including rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, and American pit bull terriers, have a higher incidence of infection. Parvo causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, and death from dehydration and sepsis is common.
  • Parainfluenza — The parainfluenza virus causes an upper respiratory infection that can progress to pneumonia, particularly in puppies who contract concurrent respiratory infections.

 

Optional vaccines that can be administered, based on your puppy’s lifestyle and risk include:

  • Leptospirosis — Leptospirosis is caused by a bacteria that is shed in the urine of infected wild animals, and spreads through contaminated water. Infection causes kidney and liver failure that can become fatal without treatment. Puppies who go camping, hiking, or swimming are at risk, as well as those who may come into contact with wildlife in their own backyard.
  • Lyme disease — Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria that is spread by black-legged ticks (i.e., deer ticks). Lyme disease causes joint inflammation and lameness, and severely affected dogs can develop kidney failure, neurologic problems, and heart disease. Treatment with antibiotics is curative, but dogs who develop kidney failure typically do not survive. Puppies who are likely to be exposed to ticks, such as those who go camping, hiking, or hunting, are at highest risk. 
  • BordetellaBordetella bronchiseptica is a bacteria that causes kennel cough, a highly infectious canine upper respiratory infection that is transmitted via respiratory secretions. Puppies who contact other dogs, such as those who go to boarding, daycare, and grooming facilities, are at risk for contracting kennel cough.
  • Canine influenza — Canine influenza is a highly infectious respiratory infection that is caused by the canine influenza virus. It typically causes an upper respiratory infection, but can progress to pneumonia and death, particularly if other infections are present. The virus is spread through respiratory secretions, and puppies who contact other dogs are at greatest risk for contracting kennel cough. 

Parasite prevention for your puppy

A number of internal and external parasites can threaten your puppy’s health, and require regular prevention and screening.

  • Fleas — Fleas ingest a small amount of a pet’s blood each time they bite, and can cause life-threatening anemia in small puppies. Although flea bites cause itching in all dogs, those with flea allergies can suffer severe inflammation and itching from only a few bites. Regular flea prevention is important to prevent infestation of your puppy and home.
  • Ticks — Ticks can transmit a number of life-threatening diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tick paralysis. Tick preventives kill ticks that make their way onto your puppy, which will significantly decrease the likelihood of disease transmission.
  • Heartworm — Heartworms, which are transmitted by mosquitoes, cause progressive heart failure and lung damage that become fatal without treatment. Annual heartworm testing and year-round prevention are critical to prevent this deadly parasite from establishing themselves in your pet’s body.
  • Gastrointestinal parasites — Gastrointestinal parasites, including roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, coccidia, and Giardia, are common in puppies, and can cause diarrhea and vomiting. Severe cases can lead to life-threatening dehydration in young puppies. All puppies should be dewormed to eliminate roundworms passed from their mother, and routine fecal analysis is performed to screen puppies for parasitic infections. 

Having your puppy spayed or neutered

Dogs who are not intended for breeding should be spayed or neutered to prevent reproductive problems, such as uterine infections and testicular cancer. Your family veterinarian can advise you regarding the appropriate age to have your puppy spayed or neutered. According to the American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) Canine Life Stage Guidelines, small-breed puppies should be spayed or neutered at approximately 6 months, and large-breed puppies should be spayed or neutered when they reach their full adult size, which can range from 5 to 15 months of age.

Having your puppy microchipped

A microchip is a permanent identification device that can help reunite you and your pet, should they wander away and become lost. The size of a rice grain, a microchip can be injected under your pet’s skin during a routine veterinary visit without sedation. However, many pet owners opt to have their pet microchipped at the time of their spay or neuter surgery to prevent the minimal discomfort caused by the injection. After the microchip is registered, its unique number will be linked to your contact information, so you can be contacted if your pet ever becomes lost and is scanned by a shelter or veterinary hospital employee. 

Dental care for your puppy

Puppies can develop many health problems, and young puppies with immature immune systems are at high risk of developing disease. Common health concerns of puppies include:

  • Infectious diseases — Infectious diseases, such as parvo and distemper, most commonly affect unvaccinated puppies, and can be life-threatening. Vaccines should be started at 6 weeks of age, and boostered according to the schedule prescribed by your veterinarian, to adequately protect your puppy from dangerous infectious diseases. 
  • Parasites — Fleas, ticks, heartworms, and gastrointestinal (GI) parasites can cause significant disease in your puppy, making regular prevention a necessity.
  • Foreign body ingestion — Puppies investigate their surroundings with their mouths, and often ingest non-food items that can cause problems. GI foreign bodies can cause toxicity, become lodged in the stomach or intestines, or wear a hole in the GI tract wall, and can become life-threatening. Emergency surgery is often required to remove foreign bodies, and extensive hospitalization may be necessary for recovery. Puppy-proof your home by keeping small toys picked up, and keep a close eye on your puppy to ensure they don’t eat something they shouldn’t.
  • Toxin ingestion — Puppies often ingest toxic substances, such as medications, plants, toxic foods, and chemicals, that can cause significant illness. Become familiar with common pet toxins, and keep them out of your pet’s reach to prevent an emergency.

Common behavior problems of puppies

A few house training accidents and shredded shoes are normal parts of puppyhood, but true behavior problems can lead to lifelong issues for your pet. Common behavior problems to watch for include:

  • Fear — Fear typically results from insufficient socialization, which is why it is so important to expose your puppy to as many different situations as possible before 3 months of age. Unfortunately, you may have adopted your puppy after this critical window has passed, but socialization is a lifelong process that never ends, and identifying fearful behavior sooner than later is important. If your puppy cowers in fear, snaps at people or other pets, or acts otherwise fearful, speak with your family veterinarian about how to build your puppy’s confidence.
  • Aggression — Most puppy aggression stems from fear, although some puppies may have aggressive tendencies from an early age. Aggression should always be taken seriously, and if your puppy growls, bites, or lunges at people, you should seek help from your family veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist immediately .
  • Separation anxiety — Dogs with separation anxiety become anxious when left alone, and display abnormal behaviors, from barking and excessive drooling, to frantic escape attempts that can cause injury. Separation anxiety is extremely stressful for affected pets, so if your puppy becomes upset when you leave, seek professional help immediately. 

 

We hope your first days, weeks, and months with your puppy are packed full of fun and adventure, as you learn and grow together. However, mishaps are common, and puppies often need frequent veterinary care. If your puppy is sick, or if you have further questions about life with your puppy, download the Airvet app, and speak with one of our experienced veterinarians in minutes.

 

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