Bringing Your Puppy Home: A Health Primer


The day you bring home a little puppy for the first time is a memorable one. It’s exciting to add a new four-legged member to the family. And in these first days, it is critical to begin laying the groundwork for how you will care for your precious puppy’s health and medial needs.  Here are a few of the basic essentials to get you started.

Finding a Veterinarian

Just like you, your new puppy needs high-quality health care. Ask a friend or your local humane society to recommend a veterinarian. Be sure to give consideration to the location of the clinic. A drive across town during a medical emergency could delay urgently needed treatment. Once you’ve narrowed your choices, take time to visit the veterinarian’s office, inquire on services offered, and talk to the doctor and staff about your new puppy. If you like what you see and hear, arrange a time to bring your puppy in for an initial examination. It’s a good idea to visit the veterinarian within the first three days after you bring your puppy home to make sure it’s in good health. The veterinarian will probably check:

  • Stool. A fecal exam will reveal the presence of internal parasites.
  • Body. A head-to-tail physical exam includes inspecting your dog’s coat and feeling the body for abnormalities. The doctor will check the eyes, ears, mouth and heart as well as examining the anus for signs of intestinal parasites.

Once an exam is completed, your veterinarian can advise you on immunizations, the importance of spaying and neutering and future health care visits.

Spaying and Neutering

For most pet parents, the expense, time and expertise involved in breeding dogs responsibly is beyond their reach. Here are some advantages to having your puppy spayed or neutered:

  • For females, there will no longer be a mess to deal with during their 21-day heat cycles, which occur approximately every six months. The heat cycle begins in females sometime after six months of age.
  • Spaying a female before her first heat cycle will reduce the chance of mammary tumors or uterine diseases.
  • Neutered males tend to be less aggressive than un-neutered males.
  • With a neutered male, the urge to mark territory may lessen.
  • A neutered male is less likely to want to roam in search of potential mates.

Most veterinarians say dogs should be spayed or neutered by the time they are six months old. Both operations are performed under anesthesia and may require an overnight stay at the veterinarian’s office. Recovery time is quick, with most dogs resuming normal activity in a few days. Spaying (for females) consists of an ovario-hysterectomy. Neutering (for males) involves the removal of the testicles. When you bring your puppy to the veterinarian’s office for the first thorough examination, this is a good time to ask the doctor to explain the details of these procedures.

Giving Your Puppy a Pill

Most puppies don’t like taking medicine.  And who could blame them.  But the good news is that when you use the right technique, that bitter pill can be much easier to swallow.  Here’s how.

Step 1: Begin with a play session and praise your puppy to relax it. Then get on the same physical level as your puppy. With a large puppy, kneel next to it while the dog is in the sitting position; with a small puppy, place the pup on a grooming table or a countertop.

Step 2: Place one hand over the top of the puppy’s muzzle. Hold the pill in your free hand and then gently open its mouth with that hand.

Step 3: Place the pill in the center of the tongue as far back as you’re able to reach. Then close your puppy’s mouth and hold it shut while you blow gently but quickly at its nose. This will cause your dog to swallow before it has a chance to spit the pill out. Give your dog a treat immediately afterward to ensure that the pill has really been swallowed. End each session with play and praise.

Fighting Fleas

The common flea not only causes your dog discomfort, it can also transmit disease, pass on tapeworms and cause anemia, especially in vulnerable puppies and older dogs. Regularly inspect your dog for any signs of fleas. Intermittent scratching, biting and gnawing, plus evidence of flea dirt between your dog’s back legs or on top of its rump, are telltale signs of fleas. If your dog is constantly biting and gnawing itself or you can actually see fleas, you’ve got a full-blown infestation. To check out your dog for fleas, stand it in a bathtub and vigorously rub your hands through its fur. If little dark dots fall on the tub floor, they’re likely either fleas or flea “dirt” (which is the flea’s excrement). You’ll know it’s a flea problem if the “dirt” turns red when you add a drop of water. Prevention is the key to winning the battle against fleas. There are prescription products that prevent fleas from biting or reproducing. They are given to your dog in either oral or topical treatments, once a month, to break the flea’s reproductive cycle.  Ask your veterinarian for more information. Meanwhile, there are many misconceptions about keeping these pesky critters away.  Here’s the truth about the two most common myths:

Myth: Garlic and onion repels fleas.
Reality: Feeding your dog garlic or onion will only result in bad breath. It will have absolutely no effect on fleas and, in fact, feeding large amounts of onion to dogs can be toxic.

Myth: Brewer’s Yeast repels fleas.
Reality: There is no evidence that feeding your dog Brewer’s Yeast repels fleas.

Paying careful attention to your puppy’s health will get your new family member off to a great start.

Anne Black writes about dogs and other animals for national publications.

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