Congratulations on the new addition to your family! Taking care of a dog is a huge responsibility, but it’s also incredibly rewarding and we’re here to help you every step of the way and we’re here to partner with you in your pet’s health and well-being.
Our medical team and professional staff have put together a puppy manual to ensure you have all the information you need to make the best decisions for your pet and get your little one off on the right paw.
Visiting the Vet
Most puppies will begin going to the veterinarian at two to three weeks of age for an initial health check and deworming. They should return at six to eight weeks of age to begin immunizations, heartworm, and flea preventive treatments, and to get permanently identified with a microchip. We can also assist you at this time with basic training and socialization advice, which are both essential at this age to ensure your dog is well-balanced and behaved. It is important to follow your veterinarian’s recommended exam schedule to ensure that your puppy receives proper protection and that you receive timely and appropriate advice.
One of the easiest and more important things you can do to keep your new puppy healthy is to have him or her vaccinated! While puppies have temporary immunity while they are nursing, this declines when they are weaned, and so they need a series of vaccinations to ensure they are protected.
Ideally, puppy vaccinations are given at about 6 to 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age, but the recommended vaccines and schedule of injections may vary depending on your pet’s individual needs. The rabies vaccination is an exception to this, since one injection given at the proper time is enough to produce long-term immunity due to the lack of maternal antibody interference.
The core vaccination schedule will protect your puppy from several common diseases: distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, and rabies. The first three are generally included in one injection that is given at 6 to 8, 12, and 16 weeks old. Some puppies will receive and additional booster vaccination at 20 weeks of age. Rabies vaccine is given at 12 to 16 weeks of age.
Other optional vaccinations include bordetella (kennel cough), canine influenza virus (CIV), lyme disease and leptospirosis vaccines if there are risks of those particular diseases based on your geographic location and your puppy’s lifestyle.
Fleas & Ticks
These external parasites are more than just annoying. Fleas can give your pet tapeworm, trigger allergies, and are of particular concern in puppies and kittens because if your young pet becomes infested, they can develop life-threatening anemia.
Ticks are a problem as well, because they can carry a variety of debilitating illnesses including Lyme disease, which according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) is on the rise in our region of the country. Many of these diseases can also be transmitted to humans.
Here in our corner of Georgia, we rarely get the kind of sustained cold weather needed to kill off these insects and our wet climate makes for a prime breeding ground for both. While some topical treatments may immediately eradicate parasites on your pet, it can take several months to rid your house of fleas and ticks once they become established.
Intestinal parasites such as hookworm, roundworm, and whipworm are very common in puppies. Puppies should be dewormed every two weeks until they are about 12 weeks of age, and then a fecal sample is recommended to confirm that there are no more parasites present.
Some intestinal parasites that infect dogs are zoonotic, meaning they can be spread to people. It it’s estimated that 3 in 10 dogs under six months of age are shedding roundworm eggs at any given time, so it’s important to practice good hygiene in the home. This includes picking up dog waste in the yard and regular hand washing, especially if there are young children in the house. We recommend rechecking a fecal sample annually as adult dogs can become infected from their environment.
Heartworm is a dangerous condition spread by mosquitos and is therefore a big threat to pets in our area where such pests are very prevalent.
Heartworms live in the dog’s bloodstream and cause major damage to the heart and lungs, and if left untreated will often result in death. Heartworm preventatives are dosed according to your dog’s weight and are very safe and effective if used as directed.
Ear mites are tiny parasites that live in the ear canal of dogs and cats. The most common sign of ear mite infection is violent and persistent scratching of the ears. Sometimes the ears will appear dirty because of a black, bad-smelling material in the ear canal.
In dogs, ear infections are the most common cause of a dark discharge in the ear canals. It is important that we examine your puppy to differentiate between infection and ear mites, which is why a vet exam is needed before we can dispense medication for your puppy.
The Best Treatment is Prevention
We recommend year-round prevention of parasites for all pets, but it is especially important in the spring and summer months. Luckily, there are many safe and effective parasite preventatives available and some protect against multiple parasites. Your Sandy Springs veterinarian can help you choose which one is right for your pet and your budget.
Brushing your pet’s teeth is the best way to help slow dental disease. Now is the time to start acclimating your puppy to tooth brushing! Start with your finger, and you can eventually move to a pet toothbrush—but always use toothpaste specifically for dogs, as human toothpaste can be toxic to pets.
A puppy’s baby teeth will be replaced with their permanent adult teeth between 4-6 months of age. As they lose their baby teeth, you may notice some blood on chew toys or even find a baby tooth around the house once it has fallen out.
A common dental issue in puppies is called a retained deciduous tooth. This is when the baby tooth doesn’t fall out and ends up crowding the adult teeth or keeps the adult tooth from being able to grow in correctly. This is more common in small breeds such as the Yorkie, Chihuahua, and Maltese. These baby teeth need to be pulled quickly to minimize dental complications later in life and can be done at the same time as the spay/neuter surgery.
Training & Socialization
Establish a schedule around YOUR routine, NOT your dog’s routine. Your dog will need to go outside immediately after eating or drinking, playing, first thing in the morning and after any extended time in the crate. After the puppy has been offered ample time to eat, pick up any remainder food that may be left. By doing this, you can help regulate when your dog will need to relieve itself.
Always take your puppy out on a leash. Choose a location to designate a “potty area.” When you get to this area, give your dog his command to “potty” (or whatever elimination command you choose). After the puppy has done what he was commanded, he should be praised and given a treat for doing GREAT!!
When you are in the house, your puppy will need to be watched at all times while indoors until the puppy is completely housetrained, or confined to a crate when you can’t supervise. If you have taken the puppy out to go potty and he has not eliminated, then he should return to his crate and allowed to go back out in 10-15 minutes. Repeat this until the puppy has eliminated.
If you catch your dog urinating or defecating inside, interrupt by clapping your hands. Get him outside and give a command to go. Praise him and give him a treat ONLY if he goes potty. Never physically punish the dog for inappropriate elimination because this will cause the dog to associate you with the punishment and the dog will avoid eliminating in front of you even when outside.
Keep in mind while housetraining that most dogs don’t like to spend time where they have urinated or defecated. Some adult dogs that have been adopted through a shelter may need a refresher course in housetraining.
Remember, consistency, supervision, crate training, and sticking to a schedule is key to making housetraining easy!
Socialization is KEY
Socialization refers to the process of introducing your puppy to other dogs, animals, people, and experiences in a way that creates a positive association. Along with food, shelter, veterinary care and love, socialization is one of the most important things you can do for your dog—and it needs to start as soon as you adopt your puppy!
Between 3-16 weeks*, puppies are most receptive to learning social interaction. Making the extra effort to see that your pup gets as many new interactions and experiences as possible during this time will help prevent anxiety, fear, reactivity and a host of other behavior problems that will make life difficult for both you and your dog.
It’s important not to overwhelm them, however—and to ensure they are socialized safely given the fact that they may not yet be fully vaccinated against disease. Ideally, most pups should meet at least four new dogs and people outside your own household by 12 weeks.
*There is a window between 12-14 weeks when pups naturally tend to avoid strangers and unfamiliar dogs and experiences. Take care during this time not to introduce your pet to fearful situations.
Should I Discipline My Puppy?
Every effort should be made to avoid punishment for new puppies as it is generally unnecessary and can lead to avoidance of family members at a time when bonding and attachment is critical. If a reprimand is needed, a verbal “no” or a loud noise is usually enough to distract a puppy so that you can then redirect the puppy to the correct behavior. Puppies that are supervised with a remote leash can be immediately interrupted with a pull on the leash.
Most importantly, if you find something that your puppy has destroyed but you did not catch him in the act, just clean it up and remember to supervise your puppy better in the future. Do not bring your puppy to the “scene of the crime” and then yell or physically discipline him—you need to punish the behavior you wish to change at the time it occurs. Otherwise, all you are doing is disciplining your puppy for being present when there is a mess on the floor. Since that makes no sense to your puppy, your reprimands could create fear and anxiety, which could lead to aggression and owner avoidance.
It’s important that you provide stimulating play for your puppy, especially during the first week in its new home. Running, chasing, and fetching are important play behaviors in dogs and are necessary for proper physical development.
Chewing and biting are common ways for puppies to investigate new things, and your puppy will be less likely to use family members or their possessions for these activities if you provide adequate puppy-safe toys. The best toys for your puppy? Choose lightweight, pliable, durable toys without attachments such as eyes and buttons that can be bitten off and swallowed. Any to that is small enough to be swallowed should be avoided.
Spay & Neuter: The When & Why
The old adage that “if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem” is particularly applicable to unwanted pregnancy in dogs—and that includes purebreds.
This is also a great time to microchip you pet!
Despite what you may have heard, surgically altering your pet so they cannot reproduce will not change the dog’s personality, eliminate a male dog’s “manhood”, or cause your pet to gain weight. Additionally, there is no benefit to letting a dog “have just one litter” or go through a heat cycle first.
Spaying is the surgical altering of your female dog so she cannot get pregnant. Aside from the very real pet overpopulation problem, there are some valid health reasons for spaying female dogs, including:
• Eliminates chances of pyometritis, an infection of the uterus.
• Decreased risk of mammary cancer.
• Eliminates risk of ovarian or uterine cancer.
Neutering is a much simpler surgery than spaying and has a quick recovery period. Like spaying, it also prevents “littering” and has many benefits, which include:
- Reduction of aggressive, dominant behavior
- Reduces roaming and marking of territory by urinating
- Eliminates the risk of testicular tumors
- Easier to obedience train
For small and medium-sized dogs, we recommend spaying and neutering at six months of age. For large and giant breed dogs, there are indications that delaying the surgery until 9 -12 months of age may have benefits for musculoskeletal health. Your veterinarian will help explain these benefits and as well as help decide what is best for your puppy.
Microchips, Nail Trims, and More
A microchip is a permanent form if identification for your pet that we highly recommend. It can never get lost or removed and is an inexpensive and relatively painless way to give your pet the best chance of being returned to you if he or she is lost or runs away.
Microchips do not function like a GPS and cannot find your pet when lost, but most veterinary offices, shelters and rescues have scanner that can identify your pet if found. Implantation is typically done at the time of the spay/neuter surgery but can be done any time.
Puppies have very sharp toenails. When the puppy is young, you can use your fingernail or toenail clippers to trim off the sharp tips, but as the puppy grows, you’ll need to use nail trimmers made for dogs. It’s a good idea to get your puppy acclimated to nail trims while young, so this task is easier and less stressful for both you and your dog.
Here are some tips for safe nail trims:
- If your dog has clear or white nails, you can often see the pink of the quick through the nail. If you avoid the pink area, you should be safely away from the quick.
- If your dog has black nails, you will not be able to see the quick, so only cut 1/32” (1 mm) of the nail at a time until the dog begins to get sensitive. The sensitivity will usually occur before you cut into the blood vessel. With some nails, you can have an assistant use a flashlight to illuminate the side of the nail to determine where the quick is and use that as a guide.
- When cutting nails, use sharp trimmers. Dull trimmers tend to crush the nail and cause pain even if you are not in the quick.
- If you take too much off the nail, you will cut into the “quick” and bleeding and pain will occur, making it less likely you or your dog will ever want to do it again. You should always have styptic powder (a clotting substance) available.
Pet Insurance—What to Know
There are many companies that offer insurance that can help cover the costs of veterinary care. Some offer wellness and preventative plans and some only cover illness and injury. We do recommend considering insurance as it can help cover unexpected costs that can pop up over the course of your puppy’s life—and getting it now, while your pet is young and healthy is going to be more cost-effective in the long run. It is best to insure your pet as early as possible to avoid illnesses or injuries being considered a “pre-existing condition”, which would not be covered by insurance.
You can compare various companies at the Consumers Advocate pet insurance site here: consumersadvocate.org/pet-insurance