There is little in this world more joyful and heart warming than the addition of a puppy to your life. But along with all the fun and excitement of adoption, there are many important issues to keep in mind that will help ensure the growth of your new puppy into a happy and healthy dog.

Food

What food we feed our puppies is integral to their general health and development. There are many varieties of puppy and dog foods commercially available. The choice is a personal one and should be based on past experience, research on ingredients and food production, and upon your veterinarian’s dietary recommendations. Ultimately when assessing the quality of food it comes down to: 1) will your puppy eat it, 2) does she tolerate it (e.g. no gastrointestinal issues), and 3) does your puppy’s body/coat condition and growth appear acceptable? Many brands cater their foods to different sizes of dogs. As you can imagine, the nutritional needs of a growing teacup poodle likely are different than that of a growing great dane. Puppies and dogs alike should have limited access to human food. Frequent additions of human food can create picky eaters and bring potentially harmful dietary sensitivity reactions. Frequent human food can also often lead to obesity.

Parasite Prevention and Elimination

Now that you have chosen the proper diet, let’s ensure that your puppy can utilize all the nutrients it contains by ridding him of pesky parasites. Roundworms and hookworms are extraordinarily common in puppies. Puppies can be exposed to these parasites while nursing from their mothers. Certain roundworms also have the ability pass from the mother to the puppy through the placenta during pregnancy. Coccidia, the protozoa parasite, can easily spread through litters of puppies though fecal to oral contamination. Stool testing and routine deworming is key. Equally important is cleaning the area where your puppy defecates, for the shedding of these hardy parasites can pose a risk of re-infestation of your pup, as well as spread to other dogs in the household. It can even place humans at risk–hookworm larval stages have the ability to penetrate the skin of barefooted humans.

Disease Prevention and Vaccinations

One of the most significant infectious diseases that puppies can be exposed to is Canine Parvovirus. This virus is shed in the feces of infected canines and is transmitted orally.  This virus commonly attacks rapidly developing cell lines, including lymph nodes, bone marrow and cells of the lining of the intestines, which is where we as pet owners will see the most common clinical signs. These include vomiting, anorexia, severe liquid (often bloody) diarrhea, lethargy, and dehydration. Symptoms usually develop within 3-7 days of infection. Being immunologically naïve, puppies are particularly susceptible. The illness caused by Parvovirus is potentially life-threatening, often requiring days of intensive care to treat severe dehydration and treat/fend off sepsis (secondary systemic bacterial infections). Vaccination for this virus is available, starting as early as six weeks of age follow by regular boosters. How many inoculations your veterinarian will recommend depends on your puppy’s age when the vaccine series begins. Decreasing your puppy or adolescent dog’s exposure to the virus is also key in its prevention. Dog parks, although attractive for puppy exercise and fun, are common sources of Parvovirus and other infectious diseases. Controlled situations such as puppy classes are preferred avenues for puppy fun and socialization.

Other vaccines for common infectious diseases such as Canine Distemper, Parainfluenza, Leptospirosis, Bordetella bronchoseptica may be recommended by your local veterinarian.  Rabies vaccination is required by law in many areas of the U.S. Often lifestyle will influence what other inoculations your puppy or dog will receive. Detailed discussions with your vet will get your puppy set on the right individual preventative protocol.

Puppies and adolescent dogs should receive routine heartworm and flea/tick prevention.  Heart worms, transmitted through the bite of common mosquitoes, can significantly affect a dog’s cardiovascular system, leading to numerous detrimental body-wide effects.  Heartworm preventatives are available only though your local veterinarian. Yearly blood sample monitoring is also recommended to ensure the effectiveness of these medications.  Monthly flea and tick preventatives are recommended in puppies as well. Aside from preventing various blood-borne pathogens carried by these parasites, flea and tick products, such as Frontline Plus and Canine Advantix, can prevent potentially fatal blood loss in small puppies.

Spaying and Neutering

Spaying (female) or neutering (male) your puppy also can provide many health and behavior advantages. The surgeries reduce or eliminate the risk of certain types of cancers, such as uterine cancer. Spayed or neutered pets are also less likely to show aggressive behavior, urine mark and roam.

Welcoming a puppy into your home is just the first step in providing for his health and wellbeing. I hope this information provides a good basis for a long, happy life for your new canine companion. –Peter Olson, DVM

Peter Olson, DVM, is a 2007 graduate of The Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine. He and his wife Beth share their home with two dogs, two cats, four turtles and a Russian Tortoise.