Adopting and bringing home a new puppy is a very exciting time. Everything is brand-new for your puppy and for you too. It may feel a bit overwhelming to start afresh with this new life in your home, but here are some very important parts of puppy care that you absolutely should not skip. The over-arching reason for ensuring you check all these care boxes is to keep your puppy as healthy as possible and to be a responsible pet parent.
Keep up your puppy’s vaccinations
Vaccinations are injections given to your puppy to help them produce immunity against some of the most common and dangerous dog diseases. Your puppy will get immunity from various diseases from their mommy, but this immunity starts to decrease when your puppy turns six weeks old. Until your puppy is about 16 weeks old, their immune system is not yet strong enough to fully protect them from these diseases, which is why the vet gives puppies multiple vaccinations at two- to four-week intervals during this time. It is important that their last vaccine against canine parvovirus is given at 16 weeks or later.
The vaccinations given to your puppy will protect them against canine parvovirus (also called cat flu), canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus type 1 and type 2, canine parainfluenza virus and rabies. Be sure to keep your puppy’s vaccinations up to date.
Remember that your puppy will not have full immunity against diseases until two to three weeks after their 16-week vaccination. For this reason it is important to keep them at home (i.e. do not take them to the park or let them play with other dogs) until they have completed their vaccinations. The only exception to this rule is going to puppy school, where all puppies attending are required to have been vaccinated.
Keep the worms away
Worms have evolved to very successfully transmit themselves from mommy dogs to puppies. Vets consider all young animals to be born with worms, so they deworm puppies at each vaccination. After worms in the intestine have been killed, immature worms from the tissues will move into the intestine. By repeatedly deworming them the vet can kill each new infection that forms. After puppy vaccinations and deworming, dogs should be dewormed once every three months. If your dog is diagnosed with worms, they may be treated more often. Remember that all places where other dogs can be found – like dog parks and walkways – are high-risk areas for your dogs to contract worms.
Test for these parasites before they become a problem
Worms are not the only parasites that can infect your puppy. Giardia and coccidia are common intestinal parasites contracted from the mommy dog that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and a poor appetite (from the infections giardiasis and coccidiosis). The vet should test your new puppy for these parasites as soon as you’ve adopted them. If these parasites are found, the vet will be able to treat your puppy before they become very ill.
Always prevent ticks and fleas
Ticks and fleas are parasites that live on your dog’s skin. They suck blood, which can cause anaemia (low red blood cell levels) and make your puppy or dog weak and lethargic. Fleas cause itchiness and ticks can transmit diseases such as tick bite fever. These parasites can be as small as the head of a pin, so not being able to see them does not mean your pet doesn’t carry them. Your puppy can pick up these parasites when going for walks in the park, from the garden or from your home and other pets. The best way to control ticks and fleas is to preventatively treat your puppy against these parasites. The vet will help you to choose the best product for your needs. A common misconception is that these treatments are only necessary in the warm months of the year, but that’s not necessarily true. Although ticks and fleas will decrease during the cooler months, they will never go away entirely, which is why all vets recommend maintaining parasite treatments throughout the year.
Your puppy’s nutritional needs
We already know that people who eat a nutritious diet are healthier and live longer lives than people who eat an unhealthy diet. The same is true for our pets. Good nutrition is particularly important in puppies as their bodies are growing and developing at a very rapid rate. The vet will recommend a scientifically balanced diet that has been designed to meet all of your puppies’ nutritional requirements to grow up strong and healthy. Your puppy should be able to chew pelleted or kibble foods from six weeks of age, so from this time, it is important to feed your puppy only the recommended diet with occasional dog treats. This means that your puppy should not be getting any human food. Our food can be too rich for their little tummies and some of the ingredients we use can be toxic to dogs. Bones are an absolute no-no for any dog. They carry various health risks and much healthier options for chewing and gnawing are available for your pet. The vet will advise you on the best diet for your new puppy.
Be puppy-wise and sterilise your pet!
Sterilisation describes the surgical procedure of removing a pet’s reproductive organs so that they are not able to reproduce. In female dogs we call this procedure a spay or ovariohysterectomy. In male dogs we refer to it as neutering or castration. Another familiar term is ‘having them fixed’.
Sterilisation is recommended for many reasons. There is a major pet overpopulation problem in South Africa, with thousands of homeless dogs and cats in shelters, waiting to be adopted. The primary reason for this is indiscriminate breeding and unintended litters from pets that have not been spayed. By having your pet sterilised before they can reproduce, you ensure that fewer animals are abandoned.
There are also important health benefits to sterilisation. Spaying female dogs significantly decreases the chances of them getting mammary gland cancer (like breast cancer) later in life. Pyometra is a life-threatening condition where female dogs get an infection in their uterus. A spay involves the removal of the uterus, so spayed females will never develop that illness. Male dogs that are neutered cannot develop testicular cancer. There are also behavioural benefits: dogs that are sterilised tend to be less aggressive. They are also less inclined to wander the streets, getting lost or injured.
Vets recommend sterilisation of female and small breed male dogs at five to six months of age. Large and giant breed male dogs can benefit from not being sterilised until 12 to 18 months of age, due to the effect of testosterone on bone development. However, this will depend on their behaviour. If the vet starts to see problems in your dog’s behaviour that are related to them not being neutered, they recommend that it be done before those behaviours become permanent.
Pet parents are often concerned about their pet’s personality changing after sterilisation or their pet gaining a lot of weight. It is true that sterilised animals are more prone to being overweight, but simple management of their food intake and ensuring they exercise regularly will keep them in tip top condition. Rest assured that sterilisation will not change your pet’s personality. Each dog is individual, so speak to the vet to get the best advice based on your own dog’s needs.
Microchipping – Never lose your dog
If your pet does not already have a microchip implanted, it is strongly recommended that you do so. The microchip is as small as a grain of rice. It is implanted by injection into the area between the shoulder blades. The procedure is fast and no more painful than a vaccination injection. The microchip transmits a signal with a unique number that is registered to you. Should your pet go missing and be taken to a vet or a shelter, they will be scanned for a microchip. You will then be contacted and your pet can be returned to you. Unfortunately, many animals in South Africa do not have microchips. This leads to large numbers of animals ending up in shelters with their owners never being able to find them. With a microchip, your pet can always find their way back home should they go missing.
Financial peace of mind with pet insurance
Pet insurance is medical cover for your pet. Unfortunately, pet illness and injury are a part of life and veterinary care is necessary and sometimes expensive. Having pet insurance means that you are able to make the best decisions for your pet’s medical care, rather than cutting corners. There are various products available and the vet will advise you on the best one for your pet’s needs. It’s important to consider a plan that provides at least accidental and illness cover, so that you can get care for your pet if they are unwell or have a medical emergency.
Some plans will include a wellness benefit, which will make a contribution to routine care treatments such as annual health checks, vaccinations, deworming, tick and flea treatments and dental procedures. Hereditary illnesses are those that are inherited from the parents and are not often covered in pet insurance policies. Should you have a breed of dog that is known to have hereditary problems, it would be beneficial to include this cover in your policy. When you take out an insurance policy for your pet, make sure that you fully understand the benefits, terms and conditions of your policy, to avoid unwelcome surprises later on.
Socialise your puppy so that they fit right in
The first few months of your puppy’s life are critical to their healthy social and behavioural development. If your puppy has a positive experience getting to know new animals, people and places, it will make them happier and more confident. Puppy socialisation classes are crucial for not only teaching your puppy good behaviour, but also for teaching you how to effectively communicate with them. This will help you to have a well-behaved dog that is not fearful or aggressive.
It is strongly recommended that all puppies attend socialisation classes. It’s also wise to take larger breed and giant breed dogs for obedience training. If your puppy is going to grow into a large and strong dog, it is vital that they are trained to obey your commands so that you are able to handle them on outings such as to the park or to the vet. It is very difficult for the veterinarian to provide good care for your dog if they are aggressive and do not allow the vet to examine or treat them.
Aside from having good manners, going to socialisation and training classes is an important time for you to bond with your new puppy. This will teach them that you are their family and they can trust you.
Socialisation and training classes are not only for puppies. Newly introduced adult dogs, in particular rescues who may have had a rough start in life, will also benefit tremendously from attending socialisation or training classes.
Your new puppy’s life just got so much better, but it’s important that you consider all aspects of their wellbeing and make sure these are met. From medical (vaccination, deworming, parasite control and sterilisation), nutritional, financial and social requirements, to physical exercise and mental stimulation – puppy care is more than just a walk in the park. If you need any help with the care of your new furry family member, please reach out to the vet for a consultation.
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