What Do I Need To Know About Taking Care Of A Puppy?
One of the greatest joys in life is having a cuddly, cute puppy to have and hold. This is a memorable time for the entire family and everyone can participate in loving and caring for your new puppy. The focus of puppy care is on acclimating the puppy to its new family and providing for the puppy's physical well-being to support healthy development.
Drawing upon a lifetime of love for puppies and many years of clinical experience, our veterinary staff would love to help ensure that you are well informed about your puppy's needs. There are many phases of a puppy's life and it is important to understand how your dog's needs will change as they grow. We have compiled some essential puppy care information for you here.
Remember that proper puppy care also requires an examination from a dog-friendly veterinarian, puppy vaccinations, deworming, and other forms of care that support development throughout the various phases of puppyhood.
Taking Care Of Puppies - The First Six Months
How to take care of a puppy is one of the most common puppy care questions we are asked, but also one of the broadest. Some basic tips for how to take care of a puppy in the first six months of its life are as follows:
- Under 4 Weeks of Age: Puppies are considered newborn puppies from 0-4 weeks of age. During this time, newborn puppies are just developing motor skills and coordination. They are also learning how to regulate body temperature. At this time in their life, they count on their mother for warmth. If the mother dog is still with the puppies there is very little required for human caretakers besides a warm safe environment, good nutrition, and veterinary care for the mother dog. If for some reason, the mother dog is not able to care for the puppies, then a fair amount of care is required to help the puppies grow and thrive. You should plan an immediate visit to see us with the puppies so we can review the puppies' needs especially relating to feeding and monitoring their progress. This includes bottle feeding puppies every 2-4 hours, keeping their environment warm and safe, and helping the puppies to urinate and defecate. Be sure to keep them warm with blankets, especially if they have been separated from their mother and/or siblings. You can definitely hold the puppies during this time, but please be extra gentle, as their bones are still forming.
- 5-11 Weeks of Age: By this time, newborn puppies should be weaned off of milk from their mothers or from bottle-feeding, and are starting to feed on a high protein, energy-dense diet. During this stage, their motor skills and coordination should also be progressing. Beware, that when this happens, your puppies will become quite the force to be reckoned with! How to take care of puppies at this age includes proper supervision in order to ensure that your puppy's newfound sense of adventure and bravado doesn't lead them into dangerous situations.
- 2-4 Months of Age: This is a period of rapid growth in puppy development. You should expect your puppy to have a lot more energy than an adult dog, and be ready to be woken up during the night by a puppy who is ready to play. How to take care of a puppy during this phase includes both a lot of bonding-based playtime and also feeding the puppy 3 or 4 high protein individual meals per day.
- 4-6 Months of Age: Your puppy is reaching an age of adolescence and therefore, sexual maturity. This will result in an increase of energy and at times, behavioral changes similar to an adolescent human child entering puberty. How to take care of a puppy during this phase includes continuing hands-on bonding-based playtime with the addition of behavior modification if necessary. There are many ways to enrich your dog's environment. During your next appointment, we should discuss ways to build an enriched environment that provides the right amount of stimulation your puppy instinctively desires. At approximately six months is the time to plan for your puppy to be spayed or neutered. Most puppies will go through puberty at approximately 6-9 months.
What Should I Expect At My Puppy's First Veterinary Visit?
No matter when you get your puppy, you should schedule a veterinary appointment within the first week. Early and frequent visits will help socialize your puppy with your vet and help the vet establish an informed baseline for your puppy's health and wellness.
During your first veterinary visit, we will perform a thorough physical and gather information from you to help get a complete picture of your puppy's health. This is also your opportunity to gather all of the important puppy care information you need to be an informed, responsible and loving guardian to that puppy. Plan to spend one hour with us on the first visit and bring everyone in the family who will be taking an active role in the puppy's care. Below are some of the topics we will want to address at the first visit:
- Vaccination plans and schedules
- Safe options for diagnosing and treating internal and external dog parasites
- Signs of illness
- Behavior and basic obedience training
- Potty training
- Puppy diets
- Spaying or neutering
While most of these considerations and recommendations are the same for all puppies, our veterinarians will take into account factors such as breed, age, your lifestyle, and any current health or behavioral issues to make recommendations that will be tailored to your puppy's needs.
What Vaccinations Does My Puppy Need?
Puppy vaccinations should take place every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks of age during the first several months of life, and continue with booster immunizations throughout adulthood. There are core and non-core puppy vaccinations for your puppy and your veterinarian can help you decide which puppy vaccinations are right for your canine companion. A general puppy vaccinations schedule looks something like this:
- 6-10 weeks: DHPP, Kennel Cough
- 11-14 weeks: DHPP, Leptospirosis, Canine Influenza, Lyme Disease
- 15-16: DHPP, Leptospirosis, Canine Influenza, Lyme Disease, Rabies
It is important to stay current with your puppy vaccinations. Puppy vaccinations have been medically proven to combat so many preventable diseases and illnesses that will occur without proper immunizations. Puppy vaccinations are a huge part of responsible puppy care, and your puppy deserves no less than every chance to be healthy and happy for life.
*Some puppies may need additional vaccinations against parvovirus after 15 weeks of age.
Intestinal Parasites, Fleas, And Heartworm In Puppies
All puppies need a regular deworming program that includes medication to kill most intestinal parasites. In addition, we will want to check your puppy's stool for more uncommon but potentially serious parasites. In addition to intestinal parasites/worms, dogs can contract heartworms. If dogs develop heartworm disease, there is a treatment, but it is not an easy one. Therefore we recommend heartworm prevention for all of our dog patients.
Of all threats to your puppy, one of the most common and annoying parasitic dangers is fleas. A discussion about your dog's lifestyle and proper flea and tick control is an indispensable component of puppy care. We do not recommend over-the-counter sprays, powders, and collars. They are less effective and more toxic to your puppy. At your next appointment, we would be happy to discuss an effective flea/tick and overall parasite prevention program.
Preventive Care For Puppies
Preventive care is important in ensuring your puppy is given the best opportunity to live a healthy life. Preventive puppy care begins with finding the right veterinarian and working with them to implement a sound checkup, puppy vaccinations, and preventive maintenance schedule. As experienced veterinarians, we are able to pick up on subtle signs that something may not be quite right with your puppy. Between a thorough discussion with you and a physical exam, our veterinarians will be able to identify health or behavioral issues that your puppy may be experiencing. The following are some helpful tips to begin planning for the long-term health of your puppy and overall positive puppy development.
What Should I Feed My Puppy?
Understanding puppy food is a huge part of responsible puppy care. After all, your puppy's body is growing in ways that will directly impact his or her quality of life for many years to come. It is important that you choose a puppy food that has been specifically formulated for young and growing dogs. Always look for a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) that ensures the puppy food you choose meets or exceeds nutritional requirements for growing canine bodies.
- Small and medium-sized dogs can be weaned off of puppy food and onto adult dog food between 9 and 12 months of age
- Large breed dogs should stick with puppy food until they reach 1 year of age
Make sure your puppy has fresh and abundant water early in the day to help break down the puppy food, as well as to keep them hydrated. Having a regular feeding and walking schedule will be a tremendous help with potty training. Puppies will begin to learn, understand and enjoy a scheduled routine.
Also, be sure to follow a structured puppy feeding schedule. Discuss this with one of our veterinarians at your next appointment and ask for personalized advice to ensure you are feeding your puppy properly. The typical puppy feeding schedule would be:
- Age 6-16 weeks: 3-4 meals per day (4 meals for very small breeds)
- Age 3-6 months: 2-3 meals per day
- Age 6-12 months: 2 meals per day
It is strongly recommended that you do not share food from your plate with your puppy. Puppies will often beg for whatever you are eating and it will be tempting to give them small amounts of your food. While it is not dangerous for them to eat most of what you eat, it is a really tough habit to break as they will begin to think that they should always share in your food.
It is best to stick with a good puppy diet and follow a feeding routine. Begin early training of the puppy on how to behave while you are eating. This may involve crating or asking the puppy to stay outside of the dining room/kitchen until it learns proper behavior.
What Do I Need To Know About Socializing My Puppy?
Early socialization is one of the most important aspects of puppy care. It involves getting your puppy started at 7-8 weeks in a puppy class with a veterinarian recommended trainer. Puppies will go through some very important developmental stages as early as 8-12 weeks. It is super important that your puppy experiences safe and varied socializing during this time involving people, dogs, and various situations. While many owners feel that they have the experience necessary to provide good socializing, there is no substitute for a puppy class with a good trainer.
During your puppy's visits to our hospital, we will help to identify problem behaviors and help you understand how to deter your puppy from developing bad habits. We will discuss any concerns you may have and offer solutions. We will also provide information you can take home so that everyone in your family can do their part in helping to encourage positive puppy behaviors.
For example, dogs lacking socialization skills are much more likely to react with fear or aggression to unfamiliar people, animals, and experiences. Dogs who are relaxed about honking horns, cats, cyclists, veterinary examinations, crowds, and long stairwells are easier and safer to live with than dogs who find these situations threatening. Well-socialized dogs also live much more relaxed, peaceful, and happy lives than dogs who are constantly stressed out by their environments.
From 8-12 weeks of age, puppies are most comfortable learning new behaviors, having new experiences, and meeting new people or animals. They still might become frightened, but you can help by regulating new situations and providing supportive positive feedback when fear occurs. After 12 weeks of age, puppies begin to become less tolerant of new situations, people, and animals, making socialization and obedience training more difficult as time goes on.
When Should I Start Potty Training My Puppy?
It usually only takes once or twice of cleaning puppy urine and defecation for owners to realize the importance of potty training. Puppy potty training should begin immediately upon bringing your new canine companion home. The easiest plan for very young puppies is to take them out a lot (hourly for some) where you want them to go and reward them with immediate gentle praise after they go to the bathroom.
Please remember that your puppy is not going potty in the house on purpose but because he or she doesn't know any better. Therefore, your best allies during puppy potty training are patience, planning, and plenty of positive reinforcement. Also, do not dwell on negative reinforcement when accidents happen (and they will happen!), because it is essential to maintain a bond of trust and security between puppy and owner during puppy potty training that only compassion and calmness can facilitate. Different sizes and breeds will train differently. We recommend that you work with our recommended dog trainer from a very early age to begin the best habits for that particular puppy.
Crate training is a way to confine the puppy in a small area when it is not being watched so that it does not soil the house or chew up shoes. The crate can be used humanely when the owners are aware of the proper exercise requirements and have set up a schedule for eating and going outside to help with potty training. The crate can become a den for most dogs and greatly aid in the owner's ability to potty train. See handout on crate training for a more thorough explanation to make crate training successful.
Puppy potty training begins with knowing when you should take your puppy outside to do its business. The most common times to take your puppy out to potty are:
- When you wake up (or the puppy wakes up)
- Right before bedtime
- Immediately after your puppy eats or drinks and again 20-30 minutes after
- When your puppy wakes up from a nap
- During and after physical activity
Once your puppy begins its vaccinations, it is ready to begin puppy class with other vaccinated puppies. We recommend that you begin puppy classes at 8 weeks and continue from puppy class to the next stage of basic training.
Understanding How To Deal With Puppy Teething
Puppy teething is a normal, albeit annoying and sometimes painful part of having a puppy. It is important to understand that puppy teething is a natural part of the canine growth and maturity process, but also that it is a behavior that can get out of hand without providing proper outlets for a dog during the puppy teething phase.
Almost without exception, puppies are born without teeth. Deciduous teeth, begin to appear at about three weeks of age. By six to eight weeks of age, the puppy will have a full set of 28 baby teeth. This rapid, new growth leads to puppy teething. During puppy teething, your puppy may target all kinds of objects to gnaw and chew to relieve the discomfort associated with growing teeth. Teething is an important part of canine development for the following reasons:
- Biting and nipping is a social moor of the canine culture
- Puppy teething is a way to attract attention
- Puppy teething is a defense mechanism
It is important to provide age-appropriate puppy teething devices and toys to your puppy during this time, and also to gently but assertively reinforce that nips and bites to people, property, and other animals are not okay. If you do have other animals present for the puppy teething period in your home, they will do a good job of being assertive too. Just be sure to monitor play between animals in order to ensure that an innocent puppy teething incident does not escalate into something more serious.
What Are Signs Of Illness In Puppies?
Young puppies are susceptible to illnesses and diseases that can be very serious, most of which are entirely preventable. This is why puppy vaccinations are so important. However, puppy vaccinations alone will not prevent all illnesses. The key to preventing illness is being diligent in monitoring your puppy's behavior for symptoms. If you observe any of the following symptoms in your puppy, contact your vet immediately:
- Lack of appetite
- Poor weight gain
- Swollen or painful abdomen
- Lethargy (tiredness)
- Difficulty breathing
- Wheezing or coughing
- Pale gums
- Swollen, red eyes, or eye discharge
- Nasal discharge
- Inability to pass urine or stool
These symptoms all indicate urgent or emergency situations and require immediate veterinary care. Should you notice any of these symptoms, please call Veterinary Village immediately.
When Should I Spay Or Neuter My Dog?
We recommend spaying and neutering after 6 months of age. However, with some breeds, there is information that waiting even longer may be the most optimal. Our veterinarians will review this information with you and discuss which breeds may want to consider an alternate plan.
In general, puppies recover a lot faster than adult dogs. Therefore, it is an easier surgery for them and one that reduces the rate of disease later on. For more information on spay or neuter services for your puppy, please visit our spay or neuter page as well as our Spay and Neuter Controversy.
How To Schedule Your First Puppy Veterinary Appointment
Scheduling a puppy care appointment with our veterinary team is as easy as picking up the phone, or sending us an email. Our veterinary staff is here to help make your trip to the vet easy for you while making it as painless and fright-free as possible for your puppy.