A Basic Guide to Taking Care of a New Puppy
It’s an exciting time welcoming a new puppy into your household. They provide so much fun and love, and are like a new child in your family. This time can also be daunting to the new puppy owner, especially if they have never owned a dog before. In this article, we will give you a whirlwind tour through everything you need to know to take care of a new puppy.
Feeding Your New Puppy
What food should I start my puppy on?
Providing the puppy has been fed by the breeder on an appropriate commercially produced food, specifically formulated for puppies, it’s best to initially start on the same food. A dramatic change in diet can lead to your puppy getting an upset stomach, and so when introducing a new food, it must be done gradually over the course of at least a week.
When looking for a commercially-produced food, you’ll have a wide variety of choice. The first thing to look for is the percentage of meat content (i.e. meat and meat by-products). A food that has more than 60% of these products will not be bulked out with cheap carbohydrates, and therefore healthier for your dog.
Ensure that until 1 year old, you purchase a food which specifically states ‘puppy’ or ‘junior.’ These have higher concentrations of proteins, calcium and phosphorus, which are all vital for successful growth of muscles and bones.
Wet or dry food?
Most dogs find wet food more palatable as it is closer to the natural state of meat, however it has its pitfalls. It provides no mechanical stimulation to the teeth and so dental disease often becomes apparent after a few years. Dry food on the other hand helps break off tartar build up as dogs crunch through biscuits, keeping teeth healthier for longer. Most owners however, end up offering a mixture of wet and dry food, which is perfectly acceptable too.
BARF and homemade diets
The world is becoming and more health conscious, and rightly so. So surely cutting down on mass produced foods, laced with additives, is a good thing? Well, yes and no. This is why these two diets have grown in popularity over the past few years. BARF (bones and raw food) and homemade diets allow you to know every ingredient that goes into your dog’s food: what it is and where it was sourced. It also allows you to give a dog a much closer to natural state diet that it would have had in the wild.
However, without the help of a veterinary nutritionist, BARF and homemade diets are extremely difficult to balance correctly. As a result, it can be very dangerous, especially for puppies, who are growing and need a certain level of nutrients. These diets frequently lead to brittle bones, stunted growth, bladder stones and internal ill-health. If you particularly want to follow one of these diets, it is strongly advised either a veterinary nutritionist creates recipes for your dog, or you purchase pre-balanced, frozen meals from one of the main manufacturers which sell these diets.
Tooth Care For Your Puppy
From the very start, you should teach your dog to allow you to brush their teeth. Without routine dog care, most dogs will require a dental procedure as they enter the second halves of their lives. To avoid needing this procedure, brushing with a dog tooth brush and dog specific toothpaste daily will reduce plaque build-up, however this must be taught from a young age to be tolerated.
Dental treats can also be incorporated into your dog’s daily diet as well, although ensure that any treats you give are calculated into the daily number of calories your dog gets. If you are concerned about the extra calories, half to a full raw carrot per day to crunch through will achieve the same thing. Ensure you do not give too small of a piece that it could be swallowed whole, though.
Walking Your Puppy
When can I start walking my puppy?
Exercise is important for all dogs, however jumping into it too soon with your puppy can be detrimental to their health. It is recommended to wait at least one week after their second vaccinations, which usually happen at about 12 weeks old. This ensures they have the immunity to fight any nasty diseases they might come into contact with in areas where other dogs also walk.
How long should I walk my puppy for?
Walking your puppy too little will cause them to be hyperactive and destructive, however walking them too much can be detrimental to their joints and set them up for developing arthritis later in life. There is no scientific guideline stating exactly how long you should walk your puppy for, but a good rule of thumb is to walk for 1 minute for every week they are old per 24 hours. This can either be in one go, or split into two walks per day.
Taking Your Puppy to the Veterinarian
All puppies should have routine vaccinations every year. In their first year of life, this will involve several visits, and thereafter, just one visit per year.
The vaccination schedule may differ slightly depending on the manufacturer of the vaccination and the individual vet practice.
It’s highly recommended that you microchip your dog at one of the initial vaccination appointments. If your dog ever was to escape or be stolen, it will ease the process of reuniting him to you.
The microchip is inserted via a needle in between the shoulder blades. Your veterinarian will wipe the area clean before inserting it. Most puppies yelp, but don’t worry, the pain is very short-lived.
Neutering is beneficial to the health of any dog who will not be used to breed. Not only will it prevent unwanted pregnancies, but it will eliminate any risks of testicle, ovary or uterus-based cancers, as well as avoid potentially life-threatening infections in the uterus.
Neutering a male dog can happen between 4 and 7 months.
Neutering a female dog can be done either before the first season, or 3 months after it. There are pros and cons for deciding when to neuter a female dog; if it’s performed before the first season, the chances of growing a hormone-induced mammary tumor later in life are close to 0%. However, the hormone estrogen tightens the urethral sphincter, a muscle closing the exit to the bladder, and if the dog is neutered before the first season and has never had the opportunity to have estrogen in her body, the sphincter can become leaky, leading to urine leakage. Neutering after the first season reduces this risk, but increases the chances of mammary tumors.
The procedure takes less than an hour, and your dog will usually be able to be picked up the same day, a few hours after they have come around from the anesthetic, eaten and toileted successfully.
Routine parasite care
Deworming: Up until 6 months of age, puppies should be dewormed against roundworms and tapeworms every month. Thereafter, a dewormer can be given every 3-6 months depending on how frequently they scavenge. This is usually in the form of a tablet; however, syrups and spot-on pipettes are also available.
Flea treatments: Treatments against fleas come in many different forms. They are available as a long-lasting tablet, spot-on pipettes, and collars, and will last for different lengths of time depending on the product.
Common Ailments of Puppies
Diarrhea: It’s common for puppies to pick up diarrhea when moving to a new home. Frequently, parasites are to blame, however bacteria and viruses are also common. If your puppy has diarrhea, take your vet a stool sample so they can investigate the cause for you. If the diarrhea has blood in it, it is important you take your puppy to the vet as a matter of urgency, as parvovirus could be to blame.
Heart defects: Whilst heart defects are uncommon, if a murmur is picked up by your vet at the first vaccination appointment, it may or may not be a cause for concern. Murmurs are caused by a turbulent flow of blood in the heart from a developmental defect. Some go away within a few weeks, however if it’s still present by the second vaccination consultation, further investigation should be undertaken.
Hernias: If your puppy has a lump where the belly button should be, this is likely to be an umbilical hernia. This happens when there is a small hole in the muscles which fat or intestines can poke through. If it’s just fat, then it will be completely harmless, but intestines falling through the hole can be life threatening. Your vet will be able to do a quick scan to determine the seriousness and if it needs to be surgically corrected.
Many new owners wonder if pet insurance is worth the money. Vet bills can be costly, and some major operations can cost thousands of dollars. It’s rare that the average owner will have that money in savings. Pet insurance can be used for all vet bills and medications, apart from routine visits such as vaccinations.
Pet insurance can be provided in several different options so it’s important you read the fine print. Policies will also differ in the amount of excess that is required to be paid.
Training Your Puppy
To avoid you dog from having a fear of other dogs, socialization is important. However, you should wait until after the second set of vaccines are given to ensure your puppy’s immunity is sufficient. If you have friends with friendly dogs, it’s a good idea to organize doggy play-dates at their homes. Your local vet practice is likely to also hold weekly puppy parties which are excellent opportunities for puppies to socialize and burn off some energy.
If you’re new to dog training, it’s a good idea to enroll your puppy in obedience classes. These teach basic commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘lie down’, as well as manners when walking on a leash. Obedience is important as otherwise your dog may grow up to believe they are the leader of their pack (your family) and be difficult to handle.
Puppies take a while to understand where they must go to the toilet, so some accidents are inevitable. To train a puppy to go to the toilet outside, you must give them plenty of opportunity to try. Every 30 minutes, or more frequently if they start whining or sitting by the door, take them out and give a command. Allow them to sniff around and take a little walk. If they start to go to the toilet, give the command again a few times while they’re still going. Afterwards, praise them, which could be in the form of fuss, treats or a favorite toy. After a few weeks, your puppy should begin to understand this is where they must go to the toilet.
Grooming Your Puppy
Not all breeds need to be seen regularly by a professional groomer. If you have a puppy with a wayward coat which you struggle to tame, a trip to the groomers every 6-8 weeks will be beneficial. This should be introduced at a young age so the puppy learns that they must stand still on the table.
However, in a short-coated dog, occasional bathing at home is sufficient. Dogs should not be bathed with shampoo more frequently than 6 weeks as it will dry out the skin and strip the coat of its natural oils. Even as infrequently as a couple of times per year is often sufficient. If needed, they can be rinsed down with water after a swim or muddy walk.
Nail clipping is a challenge for any experienced owner. If you don’t feel confident, it’s best performed by a vet or veterinary nurse. The nails contain a fleshy core called the quick. If this is cut, the nail will bleed profusely. The bleeding can be stemmed through constant pressure for at least 5 minutes. Nails can be kept naturally short by walking on hard surfaces on a daily basis.
We hope this guide has been informative to you to build your confidence with your new puppy. The most important thing though, when taking care of your new puppy, is to simply enjoy every second with them. They are only young once!