Please have discussions with your veterinarian about any husbandry information you read, including this handout. This information is not meant as medical advice for your dog but is instead of set of general guidelines that can typically be used along with common sense for the average dog.
A great source to read intelligent articles about new research and annual dog food reviews is Whole Dog Journal, accessible by subscription or online. Many online blogs and articles are full of sensational information that may be inaccurate or simply outdated, so always discuss information with your veterinarian.
The aisles at the pet store have never been filled with more options for feeding your puppy. Don’t get taken in by marketing hype, though. Research is available and ratings are available at sites like DogFoodAdvisor.com if you want to learn more.
Here is some basic info to get you started in choosing a good brand. A great book with very detailed info is Dog Food Logic by Linda Case. The recommendations below are general, taken from that book, and meant to serve as information to discuss with your vet. Dogs with allergies or other medical conditions may require special diets, not discussed here.
Dogs are omnivores, so they can eat meat and grain, and excellent scavengers, as you will notice if you leave a sandwich on the counter!. Common allergens are beef, dairy, soy, and, less commonly, corn or wheat. You may even see your puppy eat grass or plants which is totally normal and is not associated with illness or nutrient deficiency. Be sure you don't have any poisonous plants in your yard, though!
A dry food at contains between 3 and 7% fiber is normal and beneficial. Including protein sources like salmon, herring, and white fish provides beneficial fatty acids and is considered superior to fatty acids derived from flax, flaxseed, and canola oil. A good ratio of omega 6 fatty acids to omega 3 fatty acids is between 7:1 and 5:1.
Protein sources are whole meats or meat meals or by-product meals. When whole meat is included, a high proportion of water is cooked off during processing and contributes just a small amount of protein, so it’s common to see a meat meal on the ingredient list, too. As a result, that second ingredient on the list is usually the primary protein source, so be sure to read it and be sure the first 2 ingredients are a meat and a meat meal. (By-product meals are typically lower quality.) The remaining ingredients should be grain, fruit, vegetable, vitamin, and mineral. If you don't recognize an ingredient, it's likely what we could consider a "filler." If corn is included as the grain ingredient, I find that the dog often has more bowel movements as corn is just fiber without nutrition.
A growing puppy needs about twice the number of calories per day as an adult who weighs the same and need a higher proportion of protein than adults, about 22% of their diet. So, decrease calories when your dog reaches adult size or as indicated by your vet. That’s about 6 months old for small breeds and 8-10 months for larger dogs.
Large breed puppies are susceptible to skeletal disorders such as hip and elbow dysplasia due to rapid growth and large adult size. You should be careful to feed a large breed puppy food to these pups because it will limit calcium and calories to help avoid an increased risk of skeletal disease. Be careful to keep them fairly lean, too. If someone tells you to feed adult food instead, do not take that advice; many people and even breeders make this recommendation without having studied the research which is available from Cornell University, if you are interested.
Brushing your puppy’s teeth is not just about fresh breath, it’s about keeping their teeth and gums healthy. If you neglect the teeth, and sometimes even if you don't but your dog genetically doesn't have great teeth, your vet will usually recommend a dental cleaning to remove tartar on the teeth as your dog gets older. That is an expensive treatment that requires anesthesia. Older dogs can suffer from sore gums, rotten teeth that need extraction, and bacterial infection in the mouth. Daily care can help avoid needing that type of treatment down the road and allows you to notice any injuries in the mouth like cuts or broken teeth. Dental chews and crunchy bones help keep the teeth clean, but are not a substitute for brushing.
Use a special toothbrush for dogs or a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger and use toothpaste made for dogs – never use toothpaste for humans – and brush the outside of the teeth (skip inside). The work we have been doing during handling has helped prepare your dog for tooth brushing, but feel free to practice brushing the teeth with your finger for a moment, then feeding a treat, to help him feel comfortable. Make each session a little bit longer until you can do his whole mouth. If that’s a struggle, you can certainly brush a portion of his mouth at a time instead of doing it all at once. Give him a bunch of treats when he’s finished.
We work on handling our puppies’ front and back paws to help them be comfortable with nail clipping during socialization exercises on Dr. Yin’s checklist (see the socialization blog post if you don't know what that is). Some dogs keep their nails short by walking or running on pavement but most dogs do not. If the nail grows too long, it can break and bleed or can cause your dog to stand abnormally, leading to orthopedic issues. It’s important to clip the nails regularly because the quick in a dog’s nail, the part that hurts and bleeds if cut, grows longer as the nails grow. Then it’s easier to hit the quick. If you do that, your dog will learn that nail clipping hurts and is scary, so it’s important to stay at least 2 mm away from the quick. Clip at least once per month.
It’s easier to see the quick in a light nail than in a dark one, so be extra careful with dark nails. In a light nail, the area just in front of the quick is pink. In a dark nail, that area is white. STOP there.
You can also teach your dog to use a nail grinder called a dremel but be sure to pair the sound of the grinder with treats many times first, so your dog isn’t scared by the sound before you even get started. If you use a grinder and your dog has long hair on his or her feet, slip a nylon over your dog’s paw first and poke the nails through or else the hair can get caught in the grinder.
To start teaching nail clipping, pair the sight of the clippers with a treat. My favorite clippers are plier style, not guillotine style, from Miller’s Forge (inexpensive on amazon.com). Cheap clippers put uncomfortable pressure on the nail without cutting easily. You may want to have styptic powder on hand to stop the bleeding in case you go too far. (Just take it slow and cut very thin slices so you don’t accidentally do that.)
Steps to successful clipping – hold your puppy in your lap. For each step, you will feed a treat after each repetition of the step. You can have a second person move the clippers and feed the treat. Repeat each step a few times and feed a treat after each repetition to help the puppy enjoy this process. Spend just a few minutes at a time working and take a break if you or your puppy need one. Even if you plan to have a groomer or the vet clip the nails going forward, you should do this training so your pup feels at ease.
Look at the clippers on the ground
Look at the clippers while you touch a paw
Look at the clippers while you hold a paw
Look at the clippers while you hold a paw and separate the toes
Touch the clippers to the paw
Clip one nail – then have a treat party!
Puppies are born with immunity passed along from mom. That immunity diminishes between 5 and 8 weeks of age, and if we give a shot while the immunity is still present, the shot is ineffective. There are many conflicting opinions about vaccination and over-vaccination. Some vets suggest not vaccinating during week 8 due to a fear imprint period that happens for most puppies sometime during that week, so we don’t inadvertently cause fear of the vet and of restraint.
Schedule boosters or titers for distemper and parvovirus every three years thereafter, or more often for titers, if desired. A titer test is a blood test that measures antibodies in the blood. When I run titers on my dogs, I ask for a blood draw spun down to serum, then mail the serum to a lab for testing. I have found that Hemopet is inexpensive for titers. My vet can do the shipping for me to a different lab but it costs quite a bit more, so I don’t mind shipping the vial of serum myself. If you would like more information about titers, please ask me and I will send you some links to articles by respected veterinarians for review.
Vaccinate for rabies virus according to the law, except where circumstances indicate that a written waiver needs to be obtained from the primary care veterinarian. In that case, a rabies antibody titer can also be performed to accompany the waiver request.
Fleas & Ticks & Heartworm prevention
Be sure to ask your veterinarian about recommendations for protecting against parasites. Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes and a monthly chewable during warmer months protects your dog from infection. Heartworm can be a deadly disease, and at best requires painful, expensive treatment, so it’s well worth using a monthly heartworm chewable. Fleas and ticks depend on your area. I live near a forest full of ticks, but have a dog who is quite sensitive to topical medicines like Frontline.
Instead, I have a 3’ wide wood chip barrier around my yard that ticks apparently can’t cross, and I check her body daily for ticks in warm weather months. I also do tests at the vet for diseases like Lyme’s and ehrlicia every year. You can use lawn sprays as well, but you have to remember that you are spraying pesticide so do be careful not to let your dogs walk through that grass for a while following application. I use sprays with neem oil, cedar oil, and carnation oil to repel bugs while making the dogs smell faintly herbal – not necessarily a bad thing unless it seems to bother your dog.