New dog owners should get to a veterinarian as soon as possible for a consultation and physical examination.This initial consultation helps educate new puppy owners on the many health strategies that must be started early in life to ensure their dogs thrive during their juvenile, adults, and geriatric life stages. Therefore, it's important that new pet owners go into the first and subsequent veterinary appointments with an open mind, desire to learn, and willingness to comply with the veterinarian’s recommendations. Here are my top questions that new dog owners should ask on their initial visit to the veterinarian.
Does my puppy currently have any diseases?Yes, there is a probability of that your seemingly healthy puppy could be harboring illness. Puppies often come from the breeder, shelter, or great outdoors infested with one or more types of gastrointestinal parasites that may not immediately be evident in terms of causing digestive tract upset (decreased appetite, vomit, diarrhea, etc.). Performing baseline fecal testing for common parasites is a crucial part of a new puppy’s first consultation with a veterinarian. In my veterinary practice, I evaluate my patient’s feces using a combination of tests from IDEXX laboratories called a Fecal Panel Comprehensive. This extensive panel includes microscopic evaluation of the fecal material for tiny parasites or eggs (ovo/parasite floatation) and ELISA (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay) tests that determine the presence of proteins found in the outer cell membrane of Giardia and whipworm. If there is no prior history of deworming, I suggest at least a short course of a broad-spectrum dewormer to kill parasites that may not yet be causing clinical signs or are not plentiful enough in feces to be found on diagnostic testing.
What and how often should I be feeding my puppy?Puppies’ rapidly dividing cells need plenty for nourishment to promote consistent growth. Our juvenile canines need higher levels of protein, fat, overall calories, certain vitamins and minerals, and other nutrients than adult dogs to promote appropriate development. Additionally, the percentage of the ingredients in a puppy’s meals must be in an appropriate balance to promote healthy growth and not rapid weight gain that can lead to a puppy becoming overweight or obese and developing subsequent orthopedic problems (arthritis, intervertebral disc disease, ligament tears, etc.). Based on veterinarian’s assessment of your young dog’s body condition score (BCS) and weight, an appropriate guideline for daily caloric intake can be established. Generally, puppies have a need for and room to consume more calories than their adult counterparts due to their faster metabolic rates. Calories from meals and treats should be restricted after a puppy is spayed or neutered or with breeds prone to weight gain. I don't recommend free-choice feeding (leaving food out all the time), as this can lead to your dog carrying excess weight in his adulthood or senior years. I do recommend feeding puppies multiple meals per day; typically three or four pending their activity level. Additionally, as puppies are learning the ropes of acceptable behavior, food can serve as a powerful motivator to reinforce positive training techniques. Read my post on the nutritional needs of puppies.
What is the safest immunization strategy to help keep my puppy free from fatal diseases?The safest immunization strategy for a developing puppy depends on a variety of factors, including puppy’s age, when the puppy was weaned (stopped nursing from mom), the previous vaccination history, and the current health status. Fortunately for our pups, vaccinations that prevent infection with specific viruses and bacteria can be safely administered under the guidance of a veterinarian. Core vaccinations are those that can deter infection with fatal diseases (Distemper, Parvovirus, Rabies, etc.). Non-core vaccinations help fend off non-fatal diseases (Bordetella, Lyme, etc.). Puppies should only be vaccinated when they are not currently battling other underlying illness (gastrointestinal parasite infestations, respiratory tract infections, etc.). I suggest only immunizing with one vaccination at a time (i.e. providing only the Distemper combination vaccination instead of both the Distemper and Bordetella in one setting) as if a vaccine-associated adverse event (VAAE) occurs then the cause can more likely to be established. Additionally, proving that the Distemper combination has created a sufficient level of protective immune system proteins (antibodies) by performing an antibody titer (VacciCheck, etc.) will ensure that the vaccination series has achieved the intended goal of producing immunity. Ensuring the digestive tract stays parasite-free will benefit overall health and the immune system, as parasite infestation creates a chronic energetic drain and can potentially lead to severe clinical signs (collapse, problems walking, explosive diarrhea, vomiting, etc.).