As someone who is doing their due diligence in puppy care research, you’ve shown yourself to be a caring person who wants their pet to have a long and healthy life. It’s only natural that you have questions about how to accomplish that. At GeniusVets, we firmly believe that petcare information should come from veterinarians and not from “Dr. Google.” That’s why we’ve taken the most common questions on puppy care, sent these questions to renowned veterinarians, and compiled their replies to get you information that you can trust. While all of the puppy care information and recommendations below have been sourced directly from leading veterinarians across the country, please make sure to seek out the advice of your own veterinarian or find a trusted veterinarian near you using the GeniusVets directory.
The puppy period is arguably the most important part of a dog’s life. By properly caring for your puppy, you're setting them up for success down the line. The importance of getting them protected from diseases with vaccinations, implementing good training, and instilling good nutritional and behavioral routines from the beginning cannot be overstated. Adhering to these healthy puppy habits will make for a much easier transition into adulthood while contributing to a long and happy life.
Puppies love routine, so you want to instill that from day one. This routine should include oral health care, nutrition, exercise, training, and even doing things like messing with their ears and face and opening their mouths to get them used to taking pills later on as adult dogs. As veterinarians, we’ve seen far too many owners, no matter how loved they are, get bitten trying to pill their pets as adults because they didn’t do this when the dog was a pup.
From a behavioral standpoint, you have to consider that your puppy has just been taken from the only environment they’ve ever known, so now is your time to set the expectations. Are they allowed on the bed? Can they sleep with you? Can they go into rooms with carpeting or just on the hardwood floors? Because puppies do love routines, you should set these ground rules right away, as it will help to train them when they know what behavior is expected of them.
From a medical standpoint, you want to make sure your puppy doesn’t have any medical issues so that you can start with a nice, clean slate. Get them on a vaccination schedule, parasite prevention, and heartworm preventatives. Address these possible issues head-on, so you’re not facing an uphill battle at a later point in your pup’s life.
When you should bring your puppy to the veterinarian depends on when you got the puppy, the age of the puppy, and how many vaccines the puppy has gotten before. That’s why you must ask the breeder or adoption place when the puppy needs to be seen by the vet because, according to their age, the scheduling for the vaccines will vary. If you are not quite sure, of course, your veterinarian will be happy to let you know.
Most breeders provide a 72-hour window or guarantee from the time you pick the puppy up to get it checked out by a veterinarian. The reason behind this is that there are some cases in which those animals may have underlying health issues and congenital birth defects—it’s the harsh truth of the three-day guarantee.
Another thing puppy owners should be forewarned about is the idea of meeting to exchange the pup, which doesn’t allow you to see where they’ve been raised thus far. If this happens, what we recommend is that, instead of meeting somewhere random to do the exchange, tell the breeder or adoptive parents, “I’ll meet you at the veterinarian. I’ll pay for the visit and, if the puppy is in good health, we’re good to go. If not, we can address it then and there.”
Health problems in puppies depend on where you live.
In general, though, the most common things veterinarians see in puppies are:
- Intestinal worms
- Skin issues
You might not see the worms in your puppy’s stool, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t present, and they can even be present in the absence of diarrhea. When we examine puppies, we will make sure the testicles descend on male puppies, and that female puppies don’t have vaginal infections.
Skin issues can be present as well—they are probably about the third or fourth most common thing we see. Hernias (such as umbilical hernias) are occasionally present in young puppies, as are very rare congenital heart murmurs and fontanelles—or soft spots—on the head. If they’ve not been properly vaccinated, we might see respiratory tract illnesses. And, of course, fleas and ticks are always a possibility in both puppies and adult dogs. These are all things that can be picked up on the first examination with your veterinarian. Again, these ailments are among the many reasons why it's important to start veterinary care right away.
Signs and symptoms of health issues in puppies are generally diarrhea, vomiting, and inappetence. If the puppy is not showing a good appetite, that could be indicative of a health issue. Some other relatively common things we see as veterinarians are coughing, sneezing, and general malaise. Puppies sleep for a very long time, but if you feel like they're acting very lethargic when they’re awake, that's another sign that you should be concerned about. Excessive thirst, runny eyes and/or nose, and trouble urinating or defecating are also things you should watch for in your puppy.
Intestinal worms and parvovirus are two things we see in puppies, so you should know what the symptoms of these illnesses are. In the case of intestinal worms, you’d see anything from diarrhea and lethargy to vomiting. In the case of parvovirus, you’d see vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes with blood in them.
Healthy, thriving puppies typically eat voraciously and sleep hard. They’re very active and generally playful in between the long naps they take. They poop and pee at regular intervals that will likely seem quite often to you! You’ll also want to see good body posture and position, tail flagging up, alertness, and that they’re happy to see you after any absences. If you call them and they want to sulk in a corner, or they just kind of look at you and don't want to do anything, that might be a sign that something isn’t quite right. Of course, some puppies are more subdued than others, but, in general, they’ll want to play and greet you when you get home.
You should start training your puppy as soon as possible and remember, consistency is key. Many people get a trainer, but they turn around and don't won't work with their puppies at home. That’s a waste of your money because if you don't enforce it at home, they'll listen to the trainer every time you go there, but they won't listen to you.
Start with the basics. For example, when you feed the dog, try to encourage them to sit every time you put the food down. Hold the food up high and then say, "Sit.” That's a simple thing that you can do, and don't reward them or treat them until they stay. It might be for a microsecond that they sit but expect that of them. Make them sit first and then give them the reward. These kinds of small training behaviors can start very early. You don't want to be too strict with them. You want to let them be a puppy, but you want to start laying down the guidelines. As with children, puppies do better with structure.
Training your puppy also means considering your goals for potty training. Do you want the puppy to have wee-wee pads at home or not? You have to make that decision and train the puppy accordingly right away.
When first examining puppies, we do the following:
We look for any birth defects, such as cleft palates or hernias that didn't fully close at birth, where their umbilicus is.
- We look for parasites, fleas, and ticks, as there could be some on the base of the tail.
- We'll do a thorough examination of their eyes.
- We look in their ears for any signs of infection.
- We listen to their heart for any congenital heart issues that we may be able to hear, such as heart murmurs or arrhythmia.
- We’ll also take note if your puppy has a round, bloated belly, which can be an indication of worms.
- We ensure that the baby teeth are coming in well, or if it's at the age of losing teeth.
- We always want to make sure the adult teeth are coming in well.
- We make sure they’re well orthopedically, so we make sure there is no joint or bone pain.
Puppies can't talk, so we must examine everything! The AAHA also has a very comprehensive guide to caring for your puppy.
If you have any further questions on puppy care, we are happy to help you find a local veterinarian!
What should I expect at my puppy’s first veterinary visit? - Prestige Animal Hospital
So you should expect a lot of information. So when we first see puppies, we try to go over a lot. So we try to reinforce that at future visits because I know when you're in the office, it can feel almost overwhelming having that first puppy. You should expect the veterinarian to do a thorough examination from head to toe as they look for any ecto or internal parasites, such as fleas and ticks. Internal parasites could be worms. They might be stuck underneath the tail.
What should I ask my veterinarian at my puppy’s first appointment? - Prestige Animal Hospital
Well, first thing I would say is write any questions you have down. A lot of times that would vary when you bring the puppy in, but lifestyle. Hey, I plan to go hiking with my pet. I plan to go to the beach more often with my pet. I plan to be indoors more. What kind of modifications to their preventative care would we need? Other things are if you're considering breeding, what that entails. What are some complications that can occur later on in life if they're not fixed. How to find your dog if they're lost. Microchips are a great way. So a lot of these questions I would say are good questions. So sit down, take some time to think of things to ask your veterinarian and go from there.
What should I ask my veterinarian at my puppy’s first appointment? - Hudson Animal Hospital
The very first question that you should ask is what kind of vaccine schedule your puppy should have. It really depends on how many vaccines the puppy has received prior to coming to see us. So please make sure to bring all the records that you received from your breeder or adoption place so we can formulate the schedule specifically for your puppy's needs.
Another question to ask is what kind of vaccines your puppy should get. There are some core vaccines that every puppy should get, including rabies and distemper. There are other vaccines we recommend for certain puppies that go outside more often or go to the countryside and potentially get exposed to the ticks. So please let us know what the lifestyle of your puppy will be and we can start to formulate a vaccine schedule catered to your puppy.
You should also ask what kind of heartworm prevention or flea and tick prevention your puppy should get. Also, be sure to mention any training problems that you have, whether it's potty training or biting issues.
Make sure to find out when you should get your puppy spayed or neutered. That's a very good question. It really depends on the breed and size of your puppies, especially large breed puppies. We're starting to recommend that you may want to wait to spay and neuter your dog later because there's a medical benefit from it, but again, it really depends on the size and the breed of your puppy. So of course, please ask us a question about when would be the best time to neuter or spay your puppy.
Oral care is also very important to address, as you need to train your puppy so they can get used to being their teeth brushed. So please ask that question. And let's see, the next question would be, how often does my puppy need to go to the veterinarian? And again, that really depends on how many vaccines they've received before. In the case of distemper shots, we like to see your puppy get the vaccines three to four times, depending on when the first vaccine was started. So depending on that, we'll formulate the schedule specifically for your puppy. It will usually be about two to three times, depending on how many times the vaccine was given to the puppy.
You’ll also want to know what your vet will be examining during the puppy visit. We basically examine everything from head to toe. We're looking for anything that's orthopedic related—are the joints and long bones are they growing nicely? Does the pup have any pain? We make sure the belly feels great. Are the baby teeth coming in nicely? We check the ears, eyes, heart, and, most importantly, we make sure the puppy does not have a heart murmur. So we check everything.
And lastly, oral care—it’s very important to train your puppy so he or she can get used to being their teeth brushed. So please ask your veterinarian about how to best handle your puppy’s oral care.
How often does my puppy need to go to the veterinarian? - Hudson Animal Hospital
That really depends on, I think I said how many vaccines they've received before. Common distemper shots, commonly we like to see your puppy get the vaccines three to four times, depending on when the first vaccine was started. So depending on that, we'll formulate the schedule specific for your puppy. Let's see. But usually I would say about two to three times, depending on how many times the vaccine was given to the puppy.
How often does my puppy need to go to the veterinarian? - Prestige Animal Hospital
That would depend on what age you bring your puppy in for the first visit. Generally, we recommend bringing your puppy in right away, and then we'll let you know how often you need to come. If you, for example, bring a four to six-week-old puppy in, we'll probably be seeing you every three weeks until they're current on their vaccinations. If you bring maybe a six-month-old puppy in, we might be seeing you two to three times after that to get them caught up and discuss lifestyles.
When should I get my puppy spayed or neutered? - Prestige Animal Hospital
Generally, we try to neuter males... depends on the size of the dog now and what your goals are. A lot of times, if you got a giant breed dog or pure bred dog, sometimes they want to develop their male characteristics. So like for example, a St. Bernard male, they might want to fix them at two years old, but generally, if we want to avoid some behavioral complications, other things, six months is probably the earliest we'd do it. In females, we try to fix them between 6 to 12 months old, just before that first heat. So on average, about eight months, but definitely want to consult your veterinarian by about four to six months to discuss that.
When should I get my puppy spayed or neutered? - Hudson Animal Hospital
It really depends on the breed and size of your puppies, especially large breed puppies. We're starting to recommend maybe waiting to spay and neuter your dog later because there's a medical benefit from it, but again, it really depends on the size and the breed of your puppy. So of course, please ask us a question about when would be the best time to neuter or spay your puppy.
What are some things my vet will be looking for at my puppy’s first appointment? - Hudson Animal Hospital
We basically examine everything from head to toe. We're looking for anything that's orthopedic related, are the joints, long bones are they growing nicely, do they have any pain? Make sure the belly feels great. Are the baby teeth coming in nicely. Ears, eyes, heart, most importantly make sure the puppy does not have heart murmur. So we do check everything.
What are some things my vet will be looking for at my puppy’s first appointment? - Prestige Animal Hospital
Well, at your puppy's first appointment, we make sure they're healthy weight. They don't have any cleft palates or congenital issues, any underlying heart issues that we can hear with our stethoscope, any umbilical hernias. We check to make sure there's no fleas or ticks. As far as examining a puppy, these are the main things that we'll be looking at. But we will be discussing a lot of things like how to get your puppy started on vaccines, heartworm, what that is, and prevention, flea, and tick prevention, and toys and behavior. Just setting them up for an overall good life and helping you get used to these conditions that your puppy will grow into.
How much biting and chewing is normal puppy behavior? - The Waggin' Train Veterinary Clinic
A lot. Let's face it. They are going to bite and chew a lot. Some breeds and some dogs do it more than others and that's fine, but you've got to think about part of it is they're teething. We all know that babies teethe and chew a lot and drool, and their gums hurt and that kind of thing. Puppies do the same thing. They do it a lot more rapidly. The average dog will start to lose teeth (and, therefore, start to grow their new permanent teeth) as early as about four months. And usually by about six to maybe seven at the latest, all their permanent teeth are in.
You've got to think about this in reference to the chewing. They're not doing it just to be disruptive. They might do it because they're bored, but they're probably doing it because their teeth hurt and it feels good to chew on those things. So they're all going to do it to some degree. You just have to prepare accordingly for it and give them the right chew toys and things like that, which we'll cover in a second.
My puppy cries at night—what should I do? - The Waggin' Train Veterinary Clinic
The first few nights of a new puppy coming home are going to be the hardest. I'll tell you that right now. Unless you have an exceptional dog, the first four nights are usually a living hell. Let's just be honest. I am a big fan of kennel or crate training.
And for me, what that looks like is when I go to bed, I'm the last one to go to bed at my house, so I stay with the dog. I take them outside. And the last thing before it's lights out is I put them in the kennel. I personally do not put food and water overnight. I'm not eating at night when I'm sleeping, nor do they need to eat at night when they're sleeping. It just makes a mess. So I put them in there with no food or water. I'll put a nice bed in there for them. And if I really am kind of worried about how they're going to behave, I might even cover it with a blanket, so it stays nice and dark and cozy in there for them.
It's kind of like raising a child. There are people that will wake up every time the child goes, ""Eh,"" and run to them and pick them up to take them to their bed. You can do that with a dog too, but you're going to be creating a monster. So I normally will kind of let them cry it out within reason, but I will let them do that the first couple of nights. If you stick to your guns, trust me, they will figure it out. The kennel becomes a comfort zone for them. It's just those first few nights. They're away from home. They're away from their mother, their siblings. They're not sure what's happening. I get it. But if you do give in and put them in bed with you, that's fine, but you better get ready to do that for the next 15 years or so.
Why is my puppy so aggressive? - The Waggin' Train Veterinary Clinic
Hopefully, it's not true aggression that this question would be geared towards. I have seen puppies that are aggressive at a very early age and that's a little bit disturbing. More times than not, it's just playing. They're trying to find themselves in the pack. They're trying to find out who's the alpha and who’s not. What can they get away with? They're learning how to interact with dogs. And if you've ever watched a pack of dogs, wolves, any canine species, that's how they are. It's what they do. So the playfulness/aggressiveness is okay for them to do those things in moderation, as long as it's in play.
If it becomes growling, snarling, pulling, and as if they have to have the last word, that's a problem, and that needs to be addressed straight away. I'm not a trainer so I'm not going to stand here and try to give you this long, drawn out process on how to do it.
But one thing you might want to do is consult with a trainer and see the right methodology on how to break that or steer that energy elsewhere to where it becomes productive and not leading down a not so good road.
How can I get my puppy to calm down? - The Waggin' Train Veterinary Clinic
Exercise is probably the best bet. Think about a puppy. They play hard for an hour or two just like a child. You look at them and you think, ""Oh my God, where did all this energy come from?"" But then right after that it's lights out and they're going to be asleep for an hour or two.
So with that being said, the best bet with a puppy? Play with him. Give him an outlet for that energy. Take him for long walks. Play fetch if they're old enough to do that yet. Anything that's going to use energy, use their mind, that's that's what they're bred to do. You know, they're pack animals. They’re normally roaming around with other dogs all day long or sleeping. That's not going to change just because you got them and brought them into your home. So they still need those basic essentials.
Let them be a dog. Let them explore. Take them for walks, do those things to burn off some of that energy. And I will tell you one other thing, too, as far as training goes, the best time to train them is right after you've done that so their energy level is not so high. They’re in a better mental state where they're more relaxed and much more amenable to learning new things.
Is it okay to punish my puppy? - The Waggin' Train Veterinary Clinic
I'm going to say yes and I'm saying this while I tiptoe walking on eggshells because I don't want to rub anybody the wrong way. Dogs need discipline no different than a child needs discipline, so yes. If I stuck with a short answer, I would simply say yes, but I feel like I have to explain.
If you catch them in the act of doing something undesirable, such as messing in your house, chewing on your favorite shoes, fighting with another animal, trying to bite you too hard, or anything like that, it requires correction in moderation. It doesn't mean you have to go smacking them around. A lot of times it's just a loud noise. And most dogs when they hear that and they stop, that's correcting in itself for probably 80% of puppies. Have I at times tapped mine on the nose if they're really not getting a message, if they're not responding to an auditory stimulus or something like that? Yes, I have. Is it okay? I think it is in moderation.
again I am not advocating going around smacking your dog. But they do need correction. They need discipline and they do better when they know what's expected of them exactly like a child would be. If caught in the act, yes. If you were trying to correct them for something that happened maybe while you were at work, it might've happened hours ago, nah, you're wasting your time. And I have learned the hard way, do not even bother because they will have no idea what you're correcting them for. And then it just becomes a thing where, oh my goodness, now they're fearful of you because you're just this big old guy that just comes in and starts spanking them for no known reason. So if you catch them in the act, yes, punish in moderation, otherwise let it go. Deal with it the next time you see that behavior happen.
What vaccinations does my puppy need? - The Waggin' Train Veterinary Clinic
Well, most vaccinations for puppies come in a combination, and the big ones that most people are familiar with and are probably still the most important are distemper virus and parvovirus. That doesn't mean that those are the only two that your dog needs because there are other things like coronavirus, not the same one, a different canine coronavirus, hepatitis, leptospirosis. Those are all things that can be included as well. But distemper and parvo are probably the two most common that we still do see from time to time in practice on young, unvaccinated puppies. So, I think those are the most important ones.