Guidelines For New Puppy Owners

The first few months of a puppy's life are very important for both you and your puppy. As well as learning proper behaviour and being socialised, there are some important health needs to attend to.

Here's ten top tips for perfect pups:

1. Vaccination

Vaccinations are very important. Typically, vaccination programs start at 6-8 weeks of age, and boosters are given at approximately 4 to 6 week intervals until the puppy is 18 to 20 weeks of age. Annual vaccination is recommended to keep antibody levels high throughout life.

The most basic of vaccines protects against the three fatal viral diseases Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus (a C3). You may wish to use a vaccine that also includes protection against a viral form of kennel cough (C4) and there is another for the bacterial form of kennel cough (C5). Which vaccine is used depends on your vet's advice and where you are going – some boarding kennels require a C4, and others a C5; dogs regularly attending shows would be better protected against kennel cough with a C5 vaccine. A C7 vaccine is also available that includes protection against Canine Coronavirus and Leptopsirosis - your vet can advise if these are appropriate for your dog.

There is now a vaccine available to protect puppies from 10 weeks of age against canine parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis with a single dose (or at 6 weeks and again at 10 weeks if earlier protection is needed), with booster vaccinations required only every 3 years. Annual booster vaccinations for Canine Cough are still necessary and a yearly check-up for any dog regardless of vaccination history is still recommended.

Your veterinarian will advise you of the most suitable vaccination program for your puppy.

2. Worming

Many puppies are born with worms. Since roundworm can cause illness in humans, especially children, puppies need to be wormed every 2 weeks from 2 to 12 weeks of age, then monthly to 6 months, then at 3 monthly intervals afterwards. If hydatid tapeworms are a problem (if your dog has access to raw offal), then worming every 6 weeks is a good idea. Make sure you pick up your puppy’s faeces regularly, as puppies love to eat their own poo, which can cause reinfestation with worms.

It is also important to remember that combination monthly flea, heartworm and worming products do not control tapeworms so additional worming medication (usually containing praziquantel) is still required every 12 weeks (or 6 weeks for dogs in hydatid areas).

3. Puppy Pre-school

Socialisation is a vital part of the development of your puppy's future behaviour. Dogs that receive insufficient exposure to people, other animals and new environments during this time may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity and aggression. 

Likewise, training can start early to ensure your puppy understands what exactly is expected of it by providing clear and consistent instructions, rewarding good behaviours and ignoring unwanted behaviours. Ask your vet about puppy pre-school - this is an ideal way of learning about gentle training techniques and the pup is exposed to other dogs and to other people in a safe, non-threatening way at its most impressionable age.

Puppies must be between 8 & 14 weeks of age and have had their first vaccination to start.

To help your puppy settle in at home, plugging an Adaptil pheromone diffuser into its sleeping area can help it feel calmer and less anxious. These pheromones mimic those released by a mother to its puppies.

Another important way to socialise your new puppy is to visit friends who have vaccinated dogs that are also friendly (you don't want your pup to have a bad experience with other dogs). Keep them supervised and on lead to start with and remove your pup if the play gets too rough. Walking your pup is also good for socialisation and learning to walk on lead in low parvovirus areas - check with your vet.

4. Heartworm prevention

Heartworm disease is another killer that has been around for years, but thankfully, it is now a lot less common than it used to be. Heartworm prevention usually starts at 8 weeks of age and is available as a monthly tablet or chewable, or as a monthly 'topspot' application (a small amount of liquid applied between the shoulderblades). If you have missed any tablets, contact your veterinarian for advice on whether a blood test is required before restarting heartworm prevention.

There is also a once-a-year heartworm preventative available from your veterinarian that gives your dog 12 months protection from heartworm disease in one dose. The Proheart SR-12 injection is administered by your vet and can be used in all dogs from 3 months of age. Ask your vet which product is most suitable for you and your dog.

5. Fleas

Flea control is important from a young age, as a few fleas can end in plague-proportions in a couple of weeks! Fleas also carry tapeworm eggs, which infect puppies as they chew at and swallow the fleas.

The most popular preventatives are monthly 'spot-on' flea control preparations such as Advantage or Frontline Plus. Advocate also prevents heartworm, hookworm, roundworm and whipworm and controls mange and lice with monthly topical application. Advantix controls fleas and ticks, as does the new product Effipro. 

Revolution spot-on controls fleas, heartworm, intestinal worms and ear mites. Alternatively, tablets are available that control fleas, such as Comfortis, which is useful for dogs that swim a lot. Other tablets control fleas, heartworm and intestinal worms in one go e.g. Sentinel and Panoramis. A variety of flea-control sprays are also available. 

It's a complicated area so seek advice from your local veterinary clinic as to the most appropriate one for your puppy.

6. Diet

Good nutrition is vital at this age when bones are quickly growing. A puppy life-stage diet is required as it contains the right balance of nutrients, significantly calcium, and a good quality diet means it is highly digestible (undigested food results in soft, smelly faeces, and also flatulence). There are many different brands of premium or super premium pet foods, such as Science Diet, Eukanuba, Royal Canin and Advance.  

Tinned food contains the same nutrients as dry food, but considerably more water, so dry food works out as less expensive, and easier to store. Feeding a combination of dry and tinned food is suitable. 

Large breeds of dogs have specific nutritional requirements during the rapid growth phase, so large breed puppy diets are recommended which contain reduced, but adequate amounts of calcium, as well as energy, to help avoid orthopedic abnormalities. Do not add extra calcium supplements as this can lead to abnormal bone development.

Puppies under three months of age should be fed three to four times per day. This can be reduced to two to three times per day at three months and gradually reduced to twice daily feeding until six months of age. It is not advisable to feed puppies ad-lib as this may increase body fat and predispose them to obesity. Avoid feeding table scraps to prevent fussy eaters, obesity and table-begging.

Ask your veterinarian for the optimum diet for your puppy. Provide chew toys and get your pup used to brushing its teeth early for the best dental care.

7. Desexing

Desexing of both male and female dogs is recommended before they reach sexual maturity. Usually vets perform this operation at around 6 months of age.

Bitches desexed will not have unwanted puppies or come into season twice a year (heat periods with bleeding and attractiveness to male dogs last about 2 weeks), and if they are desexed before their first season, the risk of mammary tumours (breast cancer) is virtually eliminated – this effect is lost if you wait until after the second season. Male dogs desexed before puberty will not tend to urinate on everything in sight, will wander less and are usually less aggressive towards other dogs and people than entire males; they don't develop prostate, testicular or perineal hernia problems later in life.

8. Identification

A collar and ID tag is essential, though can be removed or lost. Microchipping is recommended for dogs as a permanent and safe form of identification. In some states it is compulsory at 12 weeks of age, or when they go to a new home. Unfortunately, many family pets are euthanased every day because they cannot be identified. Microchips cannot be altered and do not fade over time, whereas tags and collars can easily be lost. The microchip is injected under the skin between the shoulder blades and remains there for life, ready to be identified by a special scanner and your pet promptly returned to you if lost. Ask your vet for more information on microchipping and the requirements in your area.

Dog-proof fences are also essential to prevent the loss of your dog. Puppies can squeeze through very small gaps so ensure the base of your fence meets the ground and that gates are latched securely. When leaving your pup alone in your back yard, give it plenty of toys to play with.

9. Toilet Training

Toilet training is also important. Many new pup owners battle with this task but it's not difficult. Create a toilet spot in the garden and leave some of the pup's deposits there to decay for a while so the smell gives the pup the correct message. Then predict the need so that you can praise the right action. Keep an eye on your pup and take it to the toilet spot after it eats, or wakes from a sleep (especially first thing in the morning) and whenever it has not 'gone' for a while. Be careful, too, of high stairs and small dogs. The stairs are a major impediment to the little fellas getting to the garden and thus learning the correct technique.

10. Pet Insurance

Lastly, Pet Insurance offers you peace of mind. If your pet is involved in an accident or suffers a sudden illness the medical costs can be several hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, many pets are euthanased each year as owners are unable to meet these unexpected costs. Pet Insurance is your safeguard against this outcome.

There are several companies that offer pet insurance and your veterinarian can help you find one that relates to your pets and your requirements.

- Last updated 16 November 2012

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