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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Puppy Care

By John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD ; Susan Aiello, DVM, ELS

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Puppies can generally be taken from their mother and littermates beginning at 7 to 8 weeks of age. Puppies, like babies, require a lot of attention, including veterinary care, feeding, socialization, and training.

Importance of Veterinary Care

Just like people, dogs receive a certain degree of immunity (known as maternal immunity) that is passed from their mothers at birth and also shortly thereafter through her milk. Vaccinations cannot effectively stimulate the puppy’s immune system until this maternal immunity wears off. Because maternal immunity declines slowly over time, puppies should be vaccinated every 2 to 3 weeks until they are about 4 months old. This ensures that the puppy receives an effective dose of vaccine soon after maternal protection is gone. Restricting access to unvaccinated dogs until the full series of vaccinations has been given is important to avoid disease.

Puppies need frequent vaccinations until they are 4 to 5 months old.

Intestinal parasites are most common in puppies. Larvae are often passed through the placenta or mother’s milk. Worms are so common that new puppies are often treated with a broad-spectrum wormer as a routine preventive measure. Fecal examinations, with additional treatments as necessary, are usually done every 2 to 4 weeks, until 2 successive fecal examinations are negative.

Diet

Proper nutrition is important throughout a dog’s life and is especially critical during puppyhood. It is difficult for growing puppies to take in enough calories, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals to meet their needs for rapid growth and development. Puppies need multiple daily feedings of a specially formulated puppy food. The number of daily feedings can be gradually decreased as the puppy ages, but feeding with a name-brand puppy diet should continue until adulthood, which is about 9 to 12 months in most dogs but up to 2 years in giant breeds (see Table: Feeding Schedule for Dogs).

Feeding Schedule for Dogs

Age

Number of Daily Meals

Type of Food

6 to 12 weeks

4

Puppy diet

3 to 6 months

3

Puppy diet

6 to 12 months (up to 24 months in the largest breeds)

2

Puppy diet

Adult

1 or 2

Adult diet

Socialization and Training

The earliest training that your puppy must learn is housetraining. With patience, persistence, and consistency, housetraining usually takes only a few weeks. The key is to take the puppy outdoors at the times that dogs naturally eliminate and to praise them enthusiastically when they do. Establishing a designated area that the puppy can associate with elimination can be helpful. If accidents happen, take your pet outside to the designated elimination area and praise it for eliminating (if it does so). Punishment, such as rubbing a dog’s nose in urine or feces, does no good and can even have a negative effect on training. Each accident indoors sets the process back a little, so the fewer accidents, the better.

All dogs should learn to pay attention and respond to everyone in the household. Teaching young dogs basic obedience commands, including sit, stay, down, come, and heel, increases the control that you have over your dog, which can prevent potentially dangerous situations (such as running away or running into the street). Dogs have an early socialization period, lasting from roughly 2 to 4 months of age. During this time, they more easily learn to accept new people, places, animals, and other experiences. Giving your puppy positive experience with new events during this period can help reduce the chances of fearful behavior and other problems later in life.

Many good books are available on raising and training puppies. In addition, many local trainers, kennels, and community services offer socialization and obedience classes. Socialization classes can begin as early as 8 weeks of age, with obedience classes generally starting at 4 to 6 months of age. In general, obedience training is an activity that you and your dog learn together. The trainer teaches you, and you teach your dog. It takes only a few hours per week, is generally fun for both you and your pet, and can establish good behavior and a strong family bond for the life of your dog.

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