Puppy Health 101

Puppy Health 101

After much careful thought and consideration, you’ve finally brought your new puppy home. Before you get caught up in the novelty of having your adorable new friend around, it’d be wise to know how best to care for him. Get your pet off on a healthy start by knowing the answers to these important health questions.

How old should my puppy be before I can bring him home?

Puppies should not be separated from their mother and littermates before eight weeks of age. Many breeders recommend a minimum of 10 weeks. This is related to physical considerations such as weaning, and psychological considerations such as the puppy’s readiness to leave the litter.

Many breeders believe it is best to not bring home two puppies together. They tend to bond to each other, and not to you, which can cause serious problems the time comes to train them. Having two puppies that need housetraining at the same time can make that process go on for much longer. There are always exceptions, of course, and there are many happy dogs that were littermates or were adopted at the same time.

Why does my puppy need a series of vaccinations?

Newborn puppies receive immunisation against diseases from colostrums contained in their mother’s milk while nursing, assuming the bitch was properly vaccinated shortly before the breeding took place. During their first 24 hours of life, maternal antigens are absorbed through the pups’ intestines which are very, very thin during those first few hours. After the colostrums ceases a day or so later, the maternal antigens decline steadily. During this time, puppies cannot build up their own natural immunity because the passive immunity gets in the way.

As the passive immunity gradually declines, the pup’s immune system takes over. At this time, the pups should be given their first immunisation shots so they can build up their own antibodies. This is why puppies should get several vaccinations at two to four week intervals until they are around 16 to 18 weeks old. This maximises the chance of catching the puppy’s immune system as soon as it is ready to respond, minimising the amount of time the puppy may be susceptible to infection. The last shot should be given after four months of age to be sure that dam’s antibodies have not gotten in the way of the pup building up its own immunity.

When will my puppy start teething, and what should I do when it does?

Around four to five months of age, puppies will start to get their permanent teeth. Puppies lose their teeth in a distinct pattern: first the small front teeth come out, then the premolars just behind the canines, then the molars in the back, and finally the canine teeth come out. Sometimes the adult canines erupt before the baby canines have come all the way out. You will probably find few if any of the teeth your puppy loses, as puppies typically swallow them.

During this time, some discomfort, including bleeding gums is to be expected. Your puppy will want to chew more during this period of time, but it may also be too painful to do so.

There are several things you can do, both to ease the pain and control the chewing. Make some chicken soup ice cubes and give them to the puppy as a soothing treat, or soak a clean rag in water, wring it out, rolling it up and then freeze it, and give it to your puppy to chew on. Softening his kibble with a bit with water helps too. And always discourage biting on your arm or hand for comfort!

How much exercise should my puppy be getting?

Selecting an appropriate amount and type of play and exercise, will depend firstly on the type of dog. Puppies from breeds that have been bred for their stamina or to do “work” often have higher exercise requirements. For purebred dogs, consider their traditional work when deciding the type and amount of play to provide. For example, the retrieving breeds do best with lengthy games of fetch or Frisbee, while the sledding breeds might prefer pulling carts, or running or jogging with their owner.

Try to avoid games that pit your strength against your puppy, as some puppies get very excited, overly stimulated and become far too aggressive during tug-of-war games. A general rule of thumb for tug-of-war (or any other game for that matter) is to avoid it, unless you are the one to initiate the game, and can stop it as soon as the need arises