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Puppy Care Basics

Making Sure Your Puppy is Healthy

By Lauren Leonardi. November 27, 2012 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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Puppy Care Basics

Like any other member of your family, your puppy needs prompt and regular health care. Since you will serve on the front lines of defense in your puppy’s well being, keep an eye out for common problems.

Like any other member of your family, your puppy needs prompt and regular health care. Following an initial visit to your new veterinarian within 48 hours of bringing pup home, establish a regular schedule with your vet for checkups. Jenna Stregowski, RVT says, “Ideally, routine wellness examinations should be performed by your vet twice a year.”

Your veterinarian has many tools to keep your puppy healthy and can help should your pet have any problems. It’s you, however, who will serve on the front lines of defense in your puppy’s well being. Keeping an eye out for problems at all stages of your dog’s life will ensure they are happy, healthy, and comfortable for the long run.

“Because our dogs cannot speak in words, we must rely on the signs they give us when it comes to analyzing our dog's health. Many dogs will instinctively try to conceal signs of serious illness,” says Stregowski. Like dogs who may wildly shake their toys to mimic breaking the neck of small prey, hiding illness or pain from “the pack” is one of those doggie instincts that, despite domestication, tends to stick around. Many experts believe the impulse to hide illness comes from the fear of being expelled from the community. A weak dog is a dog who’s vulnerable to attack, and a wild pack would not tolerate a weakness that put their whole group at risk.

When You’re Adopting A Puppy

Unfortunately, some breeders engage in unhealthy practices in order to save a buck. Know from whom you’re adopting. Research which certificates may be appropriate for your breed -- documentation that the puppy’s parents have been tested for hereditary ailments -- and ask your breeder to present them before you adopt.

Or consider adopting or rescuing a mutt. Mixed breed puppies tend to have fewer health issues over the course of their lifetimes than do purebreds.

The Main Indicators of Puppy Health

  • Energy and mood.

    A healthy puppy will be happy and energetic. Be on the lookout for drop offs in mood or activity level. Changes of this kind, especially sudden ones, can be indicators that something is wrong and that a trip to the vet is in order.
  • Coat, teeth, and eyes.

    A puppy can’t tell you when they are sick but there are many outward symptoms you can use to gauge overall health. Your puppy’s coat should be sleek and shiny. A dull, patchy coat can indicate improper nutrition, the presence of allergies, or more serious health issues. Your puppy’s eyes should be bright and clear, without discharge. The teeth should be clean, without plaque buildup, and the gums should be pink and firm. Poor oral health can lead to deeper, more systemic problems. Oral health is a major and often forgotten component in puppy care. This means scheduling visits to the vet for teeth cleaning and checkups as well as performing dental care at home. You should introduce your puppy to tooth brushing as soon as they transition to solid foods.
  • Digestion.

    A puppy that is receiving proper nutrition and is digesting its food well will have firm, regular stools. Constipation and diarrhea are warning signs of improper digestion, as is bloating of the abdomen. A healthy puppy should also have a strong appetite, so watch for any changes in their interest in food. Also, look for abnormal urination—either too much or too little—as that can be a sign of infection.
  • Weight.

    Ask your vet how much your puppy should weigh for its breed and age and take regular measurements at home. If your puppy is either under- or overweight you may need to make adjustments to their diet. Weight problems that don’t respond to diet can indicate underlying health issues.

Puppy Diet

Making sure your puppy gets good nutrition is the best safeguard for their health.

Giving your puppy the correct amounts of protein, vitamins, and other nutrients they need will help ward off everything from gum disease to allergies. In addition, a pet food that is high in specified protein (meaning the food lists the protein source as opposed to “meat meal” or something similar) and low in grain fillers will stave off bloating and painful gastric torsion in some dogs.

Keeping your puppy and adult dog at their appropriate weight will help prevent debilitating joint and bone problems and ensure a long and active life. Ask your vet about the nutritional needs of your particular breed and keep your puppy as fit as a fiddle.

Exercise, Both Mental and Physical

Short trips outside to allow puppies to relieve themselves mustn’t be the only outdoor time puppies get. Stregowski says, “In general, dogs need at least 1-2 hours of exercise per day, but this varies by breed, size and age.” Long walks or jogs are ideal -- pups can help keep you fit as well! However, that may not be realistic every single day for busy families, or for people who have a hard time moving around. Most towns and cities have dog parks -- safe, fenced-in areas for dogs to run and play off leash. Running around will also help blow off steam, which will reduce naughty behaviors indoors.

You can also challenge your growing puppy’s mind with educational toys and games. There are countless ways to keep your puppy’s mind nimble and engaged. Hide treats inside toys and make your puppy work to get it out. Play hide and seek with a favorite toy. Teach a simple new command; dogs can learn the meaning of dozens of human words.

More on Raising a Healthy Dog

What's Your Dog's Ideal Weight?
Comparing Flea and Tick Medications
7 Easy Ways to Exercise Your Dog in Cold Weather

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Puppy Care Basics at a glance

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  • 1Keep an eye out for the sometimes subtle signs of ill health in your puppy
  • 2Make sure your puppy is getting the proper nutrition
  • 3Ensure that your puppy receives adequate exercise