Congratulations! You're the proud owner of a puppy. It's important to take steps now to ensure great puppy health. Louise Murray, DVM, director of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City and author of Vet Confidential (Ballantine, 2008), offers these pointers for your puppy's first year.
Puppy Health: Preventive Care
Talk to friends to find a veterinarian you can trust. Within a week of bringing your puppy home, take him for a checkup. The doctor will perform a physical and start keeping a detailed medical history.
Puppy Health: Vaccines
The overvaccination of pets is currently a hot topic, Murray says. The question is, however, not whether to vaccinate but which vaccines to use and how often. What she calls the "core vaccines"—those for parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus type 2, and rabies—are essential. "These shots protect your dog from diseases that are very real, very common, and very dangerous," she says. Additional vaccines may be necessary based on where you live, where you take your dog, and whether you travel.
Puppy Health: Diet
Choose a reputable brand of dog food and discuss your choice with your veterinarian. In his first year, your puppy will be on food that is specifically geared toward younger dogs and will likely eat three times a day rather than once or twice.
Puppy Health: Spay/Neuter
An excellent measure against pet overpopulation, this procedure ideally should be performed between ages 4 and 5 months, which is before a female dog goes into her first heat and before a male enters puberty. A female dog who is spayed before going into heat is 2,000 times less likely to get breast cancer, Murray says. Males who are neutered before entering puberty have fewer behavioral issues, such as aggression toward other dogs and urine marking.
Puppy Health: Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Medicines
Most dogs should be on medicine year-round to prevent heartworm, a life-threatening parasitic infestation, Murray says. Fleas, often seen as just an annoyance, can actually cause severe skin problems and even anemia. Ticks carry multiple diseases (including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever). Your veterinarian can prescribe effective preventives for these two problems.
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Switching your dog to a new food takes some planning. Because dogs are creatures of habit, they tend to prefer their current food to a new food. Like us, they become accustomed to a food and might not be thrilled about a new routine. These useful dog-feeding tips will help you keep your dog satisfied.
4 Tips to Successfully Transition Your Dog to a New Food
1. Introduce the new food gradually.
When easing your dog into a change in diet, think “slow and steady.” Start by mixing 25% new food with 75% current food. Slowly change the proportions over the next three days or so by gradually increasing the new food and lessening the amount of the current food. Here’s a sample feeding schedule:
- Day 1: 25% new food, 75% current food
- Day 2: 50% new food, 50% current food
- Day 3: 75% new food, 25% current food
At the end of this weaning process, you should be feeding 100% of the new food. Your dog may want to eat only the old food, or not eat at all. Don’t worry — a healthy dog can miss meals for a day or two with no ill effects.
2. Watch your body language.
Bringing a new food into your home, pouring it into your dog’s bowl and declaring that he should eat it might cause your dog to go on a hunger strike. This is not the time to show who’s boss. It’s better to introduce the new food by using a pleasant tone of voice and gently encouraging him to try the new food.
3. Don't give in to demands.
Persistence is key! For the first two days of the food transition, don’t give your dog treats or table scraps. Dogs train us as much as we train them. Giving in to their demands only reinforces refusal behavior and makes it more difficult to make a nutritious dietary change.
4. Be patient when switching from wet food to dry food.
Switching diets may be more challenging when changing from a moist food to a dry food. If your dog continues to resist eating dry food, mix in a little warm water. You might even want to put the moistened food in the microwave for a few seconds. If you mix the food with water, be sure to throw away the uneaten portion after 20 minutes to prevent spoilage. The same rule applies for canned and pouch food. After the dog has become accustomed to the moistened food, you can wean him onto completely dry food. To do this, follow the same mixing instructions outlined above.
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