Bringing home a new puppy is an exciting, but sometimes overwhelming experience. Whether this is your first puppy or it’s been a while since you’ve had a pup, we’d like to help by offering tips to ensure you give your new pet the best care possible as your household grows by four paws.
What do I feed my puppy?
There are many choices out there in dog food, so it can be tough to feel confident you’ve found the right food to nourish your puppy. For starters, it’s important that you feed a high-quality food that is specially formulated for growing puppies. This food will have higher protein and fat levels, added DHA and EPA, and other vitamins and nutrients (such as calcium), all perfectly balanced to provide proper nutrition during growth.
Puppies’ nutritional needs change quickly as they grow, so be sure to revisit the amount you’re feeding frequently to make sure your pup is getting the proper amount for their growth stage. If you have a large breed puppy, like a lab or a golden retriever, you’ll want to avoid overfeeding, as this can cause issues with bone development as your pup grows.
Your puppy’s food will be complete and balanced, providing all the nutrients he or she needs in the correct proportions. While it might be tempting, you should avoid switching between foods or feeding table scraps because these can lead to a very picky eater in the future! Plus, some people foods can cause stomach upset and some can even be toxic. If you do give your puppy a little something on the side, we recommend these treats and other foods make up less than 10% of a pet’s daily food intake. And If you must switch your puppy’s food, be sure to gradually change the foods over two weeks to avoid an upset stomach.
People often ask us when they should transition from a puppy formula to an adult food. Our recommendation is that your pup should stay on puppy food until they are full grown, but know that “full grown” varies significantly depending on the breed. Many are done growing and can change to adult food by a year old, but some large breed puppies, such as Great Danes, will continue to grow for up to two years! If you have any questions about the right time to transition your puppy, please feel free to reach out to us in the Freely Nutrition Center or speak with your veterinarian.
How do I set my puppy up for potty training success?
Potty training is a much happier adventure for all involved when you make the experience positive by encouraging your pup when it succeeds rather than scolding when it has accidents. Puppies are still developing the muscles they need to hold their urine for the first 12 weeks, so you’ll need to take them out frequently and praise them when they go outside. Eating usually stimulates movement through their system, so you should take them out within 20 minutes after mealtime. It’s also a good idea to take your puppy out after sleeping, drinking, and playing. And always try to give a verbal cue such as “go potty” that the puppy can catch on to, along with plenty of praise as soon as they have gone.
Always keep your puppy in your sight while potty training to foster success. This is easier said than done, we know. So if you find that your puppy has had an accident and urinated or pooped inside, do not punish them after the fact. The puppy will only understand why you are upset if you actually catch him or her in the act. If you do catch your puppy going in the house, immediately interrupt the behavior with a verbal “no,” and take him or her quickly outdoors to finish. Be sure to offer plenty of praise when he or she goes outside.
Any time you’re not able to supervise your puppy, he or she should be kept in a crate. Puppies become comfortable and consider the crate their safe place to rest. They are also less likely to go to the bathroom in their crate as long as it’s not too big. For optimal success, you should allow your puppy to go to the bathroom before putting him or her in and as soon as they come out of the crate. Short periods of time in the crate will help your puppy learn to hold off until an appropriate potty time is offered. Another benefit of crating your puppy is that it prevents them from chewing on or eating things in the house while you’re not looking.
Remember that puppies often make mistakes during potty training, so do your best to keep up the positivity! If training seems to be really off course, it’s always good to check with your vet to rule out medical causes for the challenges. A professional trainer can also help smooth out the process if issues persist.
What can I expect from visits to the vet?
You should schedule a vet visit as soon as possible after getting a new puppy and do whatever you can to make every vet visit as low-stress as possible. Be sure to give plenty of praise (and treats!) to make each visit a positive experience. This will help your puppy see the vet as a normal outing rather than an unpleasant experience as they grow older.
The vet will give your puppy a physical exam to look for any problems he or she may have been born with (such as hernias, luxating patellas, soft spots on their head, heart murmurs, etc.) or any other medical issues. In addition, your vet will deworm your puppy and get you started on a proper vaccination schedule. You’ll also want to talk about having your puppy spayed or neutered at the appropriate age.
Vaccinations are a proactive way to protect and support your puppy’s immune system from exposure to new diseases. Your veterinarian will create a plan for your puppy based on your unique lifestyle and routines, but they usually start vaccines around 6 to 8 weeks of age and booster them every 2 to 3 weeks until they’re 16 weeks old. It’s important to follow your vet’s plan as getting all recommended boosters in with the correct intervals will ensure your puppy is fully protected. Some vaccines are considered core vaccines (rabies, distemper combo vaccine) and are given to almost all puppies. There are other non-core vaccines (bordetella, lyme, lepto, influenza) that are given based on an individual puppy’s chance of future exposure. This often depends on where you live and what your puppy will be in contact with, both in the environment and from other dogs. For example, does your puppy spend almost all of their time inside or do they go to dog parks or a groomer? Will you take them for a hike in the woods every weekend? Your vet will also likely start your puppy on a heartworm preventative and possibly a flea and tick preventative regimen.
Because they are so little, puppies can get sick quickly. Watch for any diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, lethargy, sneezing, coughing, discharge from the eyes or nose, fever, decreased appetite, limping, or general changes in health or behavior. Contact your vet right away if you notice any of these.
Always remember that your vet is your ally, and you both want the best for your puppy. If you have questions about something or if you miss a vaccine booster or dose of preventative medication, be sure to check in with your vet. They will be happy to get you back on track.
Time for training!
It’s important to socialize puppies with people and dogs, but be careful about who you introduce your puppy to until they’ve gotten all of their puppy vaccines at 16 weeks. Until then, it’s best to keep your puppy in a fenced-in yard and only let them interact with fully-vaccinated dogs. You’ll want to avoid places where other dogs frequent (such as dog parks and pet stores), and carry them in and out of vet clinics to help reduce their exposure to diseases.
Puppy classes are strongly encouraged for training and socialization, and reputable classes will require that all puppies be up-to-date on vaccines. These classes are great for both you and your puppy, and they will foster a positive long-term relationship by teaching you how to communicate and interact with each other.
Your puppy will lose its baby teeth and get adult teeth throughout its first eight months. Chewing and biting is a normal play behavior between puppies, and it provides relief to pesky teething pain. You can teach your puppy that biting you is inappropriate using a high-pitched sound to mimic the noises puppies use with each other when playtime gets too rough. Immediately give your puppy a toy to play with and praise them for playing with the toy.
Brushing up on grooming tips
Now is the perfect time to get your puppy comfortable with things they will encounter in the future, such as vet visits, nail trims, ear cleaning, and brushing their coat and teeth, so they will not be afraid of these things as an adult dog. Trimming nails can be done at home, but ask your vet to show you how. Cutting them too short can cause a bit of pain and bleeding, and it might make them wary of nail trims in the future. It’s also great to get your puppy used to daily tooth brushing. Dental disease can be detrimental to the body later in life, so keeping the teeth clean is a great way to keep them healthy. You can use a regular toothbrush or a finger brush, but be sure to use toothpaste specially made for dogs because human toothpaste is toxic to pets.
Puppies can be messy, but we only recommend giving a full bath every two weeks if possible. More frequent baths can dry out the skin. Between baths, you can spot wash your puppy as needed. It’s important to use a shampoo that’s made for dogs because the pH of their skin is different than that of people, so our soaps and shampoos can dry out or irritate their skin.
Anything else I should know? I’m a bit overwhelmed!
Exercise, plenty of toys, and playing are important to keep your puppy’s mind stimulated. Gradually introduce exercise (but don’t overdo it) and keep a close eye on your puppy when it’s playing with toys. Remove any strings or small parts that can come off the toy, as they can cause choking or blockages in the intestines if swallowed. Always supervise your puppy if he or she is playing with plush toys. Their sharp little teeth can cut through and get the stuffing and squeakers out easily, and these can be hazardous when swallowed.
Most important of all, enjoy your puppy! Take lots of pictures to look back on later. They don’t stay small for long, and there’s nothing better than puppy kisses to brighten any day. While checking with your vet is the best course of action for any health concerns, the Freely Nutrition Center experts are here to help with questions about nutrition and care! Give us a call, send us an email, or connect with us through LiveChat. We can’t wait to hear about your puppy!