Congratulations! You have a new furry best friend. Getting a new puppy is an adorably cute, exciting adventure from the very first moment. Although these days are fun, new puppy ownership can also be a time of uncertainty and overwhelming frustration. We’ll help you know what to do to prepare to bring your puppy home and get through their first big milestones together.
Puppies can leave their mothers at 8 weeks of age. Separating a mom from her puppies earlier than 8 weeks of age can negatively impact the puppy’s social and emotional development. Make sure your puppy is old enough to join your family.
Puppies require a lot of care, so be committed to spending time with them each day. They’ll look to you to provide structure, teach them what to do, and give them attention. You’ll also need some basic supplies:
Food and water bowls
Leash, collar, and ID tags
Next, puppy-proof your home. Puppies are curious and inquisitive and can get into trouble easily. Create a safe space for them to sleep - either a crate or other area that is a quiet place for them to rest. Make sure their food (and your food) is out of reach. Check your home for potential hazards like electrical cords, cleaning supplies/toxic chemicals, poisonous plants, or other things they might be tempted to chew on. If there are areas that you don’t want your puppy going in, put up baby gates to limit their access.
Make sure you get records of previous vaccines, any treatment(s)/deworming, and any surgeries your puppy may have had. This paperwork is important to bring with you to your puppy’s first vet visit. You’ll want to know if your pet is currently being treated with any medications, what vaccines (and when) they have already been given, if they have been started on heartworm/flea/tick prevention, and if they have already been spayed or neutered. You’ll want to know of any illnesses or any hereditary conditions they may have so you are not surprised at your first vet visit.
Start by feeding your puppy what they are used to eating. Grab a small bag of the same food the shelter/rescue or breeder was feeding them. This will help avoid diarrhea with a sudden diet change.
Puppies should be fed a high-quality ‘puppy’ kibble until they are 12 months of age. Puppy kibble has higher concentrations of nutrients and energy that a growing puppy needs for development. Puppies should be fed 3-6 times a day depending on their age. Puppies are very active and growing so they need lots of calories.
Recommended brands of puppy food: Purina ProPlan, Royal Canin, and Hill’s Science Diet.
Once you chose a good puppy kibble, you can gradually start mixing in the new food with the old. Mix slowly with a full transition to the new food over 5-7 days.
Have your puppy examined by a veterinarian. Make sure your new furry friend is healthy and happy!
A veterinarian will do a thorough exam, check your puppy’s stool for intestinal parasites, update any vaccines that are needed, and get your puppy started on monthly parasite prevention.
Intestinal parasites are very common. Even if you received your puppy from the best breeder in the world, it could still have parasites. Expect your veterinarian to check 1-2 fecal samples for parasites and for your pet to be dewormed (medication) a few times.
Vaccines help protect puppies from common diseases. Puppies can start receiving vaccines at 6-8 weeks of age and will need boosters every 3-4 weeks until they are fully protected. This means each puppy will need 3-4 sets of vaccines. At 6-8 weeks of age, the puppy’s maternal antibodies (antibodies passed from mom to puppy by milk) start to decline. Vaccinations boost your puppy’s immune system so they will be protected. However, it takes a little bit of time to train their immune system and for the puppy to make their own antibodies against common diseases (which is why they need multiple boosters of the same vaccine).
It is of the utmost importance to keep your puppy safe and close to home until they are fully vaccinated. The diseases puppies are receiving vaccines for are devastating if they get them at a young age and can even be fatal. Puppies will not be fully protected until 2 weeks after their last vaccine is given (usually around 20 weeks of age). DO NOT let your puppy come into contact with any unvaccinated animals or wildlife - this includes limiting any contact with contaminated feces or urine from unvaccinated animals. DO NOT take your puppy to dog parks or even places like PetSmart or Petco. Although pet stores may seem safe, pet stores often have adoption days, and those pets may have been exposed to shelters or other high-population environments.
Your puppy may go to friends, family members, or neighbors’ houses who have pets that are fully vaccinated, healthy, and well taken care of. Additionally, pets of people you know who are vaccinated may come to your house to play with the new puppy.
Your veterinarian will get your puppy started on monthly heartworm prevention. Heartworms are exactly what they sound like - large worms that live in the right chambers of the heart and the major blood vessels that go from the heart to the lungs. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes which unfortunately are present in Texas 12 months out of the year. All dogs in our area need to be on heartworm prevention 12 months out of the year. Most heartworm preventions also have intestinal parasite control which is an added benefit. Some also offer flea and tick control. You and your veterinarian can discuss the various products and what your puppy needs in addition to heartworm prevention. We will help you choose the best product for your new puppy. These products will be continued for your puppy’s whole life.
First and foremost, you’ll want to start potty training. Puppies can only hold their bladder for a short amount of time, usually about 3 - 6 hours depending on the size and age of the puppy (the younger and smaller a puppy is, the smaller their bladder is). Take your puppy outside to go potty every 2-3 hours if you can. Positive reinforcement is the best potty-training method. When your puppy successfully uses the bathroom outside, praise them excessively, give them a treat, or let them play with a special toy. Remember to take your puppy outside to use the bathroom after waking up in the morning, waking up from a nap, and after eating or drinking anything. Eating and drinking stimulate them and get things moving so they will need to use the bathroom shortly after (about 10 min after eating/drinking). You should expect to get up at least once in the night to let your puppy use the bathroom. If you catch your puppy ‘in the act’ of peeing or pooping in the house, you can correct them by clapping loudly behind them and saying a loud, harsh ‘NO’. Then take them outside to where they should be urinating and defecating so they will learn this is where they should go. If you find puddles or piles sometime after the act, don’t bother trying to discipline your puppy. Your puppy will have no idea why you are mad and will not be able to connect the dots. Rubbing a puppy’s nose in a puddle of urine after the fact is not recommended and does not help them learn.
Although at times it may seem controversial, crate training is recommended for your puppy. It is one of the best things you can do. Crate training allows a designated safe space for your pet. It helps with potty training, lets you know they won’t destroy the house when you’re gone, helps with putting them to bed, and overall, just gives them a space all their own to retreat to if needed.
After your puppy is fully vaccinated, socialization is really important! Socialization is the act of introducing puppies to all sorts of people (adults and kids), other animals, noises, places, and things. You’ll want to teach them how to interact with other dogs, how to behave with cats (or any other animals that they may live with), and learn that humans are friendly and safe. You can take your puppy to the pet store, dog parks, hiking trails, and other restaurants/establishments that are pet friendly. Have treats for strangers to give your puppy and encourage people to pet them nicely. Socialization is very important to help prevent anxiety, fear, and aggression.
Obedience training should start as soon as you get your puppy. While you’ll want to teach them basic commands like sit, stay, etc., it is also important to teach them how to behave on a leash, in public, and with other dogs. Once your puppy is fully vaccinated, you can enroll them in basic training classes like those offered at major pet stores. You could also opt for a formal trainer for a more personalized experience. It is especially important for larger dogs to receive proper training. You want your puppy to be friendly to both other animals and other people.
Pet insurance is commonplace these days and can be a huge asset for you and your puppy. There is no way to anticipate how or when your pet may become ill or how much it will cost. Despite owners’ best efforts and no matter how careful you are, puppies like to chew and devour things, climb and fall off furniture, or have other unexpected injuries. Pet insurance enables you to care for your pet in an emergency without financial burden and helps protect against unexpected veterinary bills.
Spaying or neutering your puppy is important if you are not planning on breeding them. Spaying and neutering prevents diseases (males: prostate issues, hernias, cancer; females: uterine infections, cancer), unwanted pregnancy, and aggression. For the general dog population, spaying and neutering at 6 months of age is recommended. However, if you have a large or giant breed dog, or based on your veterinarian’s recommendations, spaying and neutering later in life (at 1-2 years of age) may be recommended. Please talk to your veterinarian regarding the most up-to-date research and recommendations regarding spays and neuters.
Ok, this one is a no-brainer, but love that puppy! Puppies are so sweet and adorable and full of energy and mischief. They will depend on you to teach them, give them structure, attention, and love. It’s up to you to provide them with everything they need and give them a loving home!
Chief Medical Officer
True Animal Vet