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Caring for Your New Puppy

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

Getting a new puppy is such a joyful and exciting process. Although puppies are a lot of fun, caring for them can become overwhelming pretty quick. Here is a run-down of the important care items for your new puppy.



It is extremely important to vaccinate your puppy to protect them from diseases. We will begin vaccinating your puppy at 6-8 weeks and vaccinate them every 2-4 weeks until they are 12-16 weeks to ensure we have provided them protection. We provide this many boosters over a period to ensure your puppy is protected and able to produce a large enough immune response while they are losing protection from their mother’s antibodies.

Core puppy vaccines: recommended for all puppies

  • DA2PP: This is a modified-live combination vaccine containing vaccines for distemper, adenovirus parvovirus, and parainfluenza.

    • Distemper virus is a RNA virus which is transmitted by direct contact of secretions/excretions (respiratory, urine, and can be aerosolized) of an infected animal or through the placenta from mother to puppy which can cause fever, coughing, labored breathing, decreased appetite, discharge from the eyes and nose, depression, decreased white blood cell count, decreased development of the teeth, blindness, diarrhea, vomiting, inflammation of the brain, seizures and death.

    • Parvovirus is a DNA virus which is spread through contact of the nose or mouth with contaminated feces or surfaces/organisms with virus particles and can cause severe vomiting, bloody diarrhea, decreased appetite, dehydration, skin ulceration, heart failure, and death. Virus is found in the feces for about one week post infection (shedding), but can be longer and is resistant to many disinfectants so it can survive in the environment for months.

    • Parainfluenza virus is a RNA virus which is transmitted through inhalation or ingestion of aerosolized respiratory secretions or droplets on surfaces which can cause cough, nasal discharge, and gagging/hacking up mucous. The virus is highly infectious (especially in kennels or shelters) and is spread in respiratory secretions for about 10 days after infection.

    • Canine adenovirus (CAV-1) is a DNA virus which is transmitted by ingestion or inhalation of body secretions from an infected animal which can cause fever, accelerated heart and breathing rate, vomiting, diarrhea, enlargement of tonsils, coughing, belly enlargement and tenderness, increased risk of bleeding, depression, disorientation, seizures, coma, and death. Unfortunately, death can result just hours after some of these signs appear in severe cases. If the dog survives the acute phase of the infection, chronic liver inflammation and ocular changes can persist.⠀

  • Rabies: It is required by law that all dogs, cats, and ferrets to be vaccinated for rabies. The rabies vaccination in dogs is a killed vaccine, and in cats it’s either a killed or recombinant vaccine. Most US states require rabies vaccination for dogs and cats because the virus exists in wildlife such as bats, raccoons, skunk, and fox. Rabies is a RNA virus (Lyssavirus) which is usually transmitted through saliva when bitten by an infected animal. Replication and spread within the nervous system (eventually to the spinal cord and brain) results in signs such as anxiety, changed personality, sensitive to light (photophobic), irritation, incoordination, seizures, and death. After spread to the brain and spinal cord, the virus can spread to other tissues, including salivary glands (how it infects others).

Non-core vaccines: recommended based on potential exposure

  • Bordetella: This is a killed vaccine which can be given under the skin, or a modified live vaccine that can be given in the nose (intranasal). Clinical signs of Bordetella include a dry hacking cough, sneezing, nasal discharge, and can lead to a pneumonia in severe cases. The intranasal vaccine has been shown to reduce secretion of the bacteria and prevent clinical signs.

  • Canine Influenza: This is a killed vaccine that is given under the skin which decreases the severity of the disease and shedding of virus but does not completely prevent it. Influenza viruses are transmitted through respiratory droplets and infection can cause coughing, sneezing, eye or nose discharge, lethargy and a secondary pneumonia.

  • Leptospirosis: Leptospirosis is caused by Leptospira interrogans which is a bacteria spread through contact with contaminated urine/water source, venereal transfer, from mother to fetus, bite wounds, contaminated soil, contaminated food, or ingestion of infected tissues which can cause kidney and liver failure. The bacteria is found in the urine of an animal for days to months after infection and can last in the environment for months. Any dog that could be exposed to urine/contaminated water from wildlife or other dogs could be exposed to Leptospira! This bacteria is transmissible to humans. The vaccine is a killed vaccine which is sometimes combined with the vaccines for distemper, parainfluenza, parvovirus, and adenovirus 2. Because it is a killed vaccine, a booster shot will be required 2-4 weeks after the first shot to actually immunize.

  • Lyme: Lyme disease is a bacterial infection of a Borrelia species. It is transmitted to dogs, cats, and humans through the Blacklegged or Deer tick after attachment for 1-2 days and can cause limping from inflammation of the joints, lethargy, inappetence, kidney damage and even neurologic issues. Along with year-round tick prevention, dogs that are in areas with many ticks can be vaccinated with the Borrelia burgerdorferi vaccine.



Puppies are very susceptible to acquiring intestinal parasites and can have very severe symptoms with some infections. Because of this, the American Animal Hospital Association recommends regular deworming of puppies every 2 weeks starting at 2 weeks of age until they are on a regular monthly heart worm prevention containing a dewormer.

Common intestinal parasites including roundworms and hookworms can cause infections in humans. Hookworms can infect through the skin and live right below the skin. Roundworms can infect distant organs. Regular deworming will decrease the risk of you picking up an infection from your puppy. If your puppy is positive for intestinal parasites, follow your veterinarian's instructions on deworming, pick up and dispose of their poop as soon as possible, and wash your hands immediately after.


Heartworm, Flea, & Tick Prevention

Heartworm disease

Heartworms, or Dirofilaria immitus, is a parasite that is transmitted by mosquitoes. The early stages (larvae) of the worm mature inside mosquitoes. When an infected mosquito bites a dog or cat the larvae are deposited in the animal. The larvae mature more while migrating through the dog or cat’s tissue before finding their home in the main pulmonary artery and right side of the heart. The worms become adults in the right heart and produce baby worms (microfilariae). These can be picked up by different mosquitoes to infect other animals. Having adult worms in the heart can cause major heart disease, with severe complications and even death.

Luckily, this can be prevented! There are a variety of heartworm preventions available, and they all basically work the same way - by killing the microfilariae (baby worms) and young worms. We know some of these can be expensive, however the treatment for adult heartworms is much more expensive and heart breaking.




Dental Care

During your veterinarian’s physical exam, they will take a peek at your pet's teeth and gums. From this, they can see tartar build up, gum recession and inflammation (gingivitis), and any obvious fractures or (maybe) tooth reabsorption. Many pets don’t love their mouth being looked in, so it can be hard to get a good look when they are awake.

Dental cleanings under anesthesia are important to remove tartar and evaluate for periodontal disease (inflammation/infection of the structures that surround and support the tooth) using probing and dental x-rays. After probing and performing x-rays, your veterinarian will be much better equipped to tell you about the oral health of your pet and give their treatment recommendations.

While regular dental cleaning is the best way to full evaluate and clean the teeth, there are some things you can do at home to slow tartar buildup. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) has an accepted list of diets, chews, gels, toothpaste, wipes, and more that are effective (when used as directed) in slowing plaque and tartar buildup on their website. Regular daily brushing with a soft toothbrush is a great way to keep your pets teeth as clean as possible between dental cleanings. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian for recommendations specific to your pet!



During a puppy's growth period, it is very important for them to be on a puppy specific diet. The best way to determine whether a food is meant for growth is to look at the nutrition statement on the back or side of the bag. It should read:

  • "[Diet X] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth" or

  • "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [Diet X] provides complete and balanced nutrition for growth"

When selecting a food for your puppy or dog, I recommend using the World Small Animal Veterinary Association guidelines on selecting a pet food which you can read here.


Pet Insurance

Pet insurance differs from human insurance in a couple ways:

  • It is for emergencies/unexpected illnesses. Basic wellness visits (vaccines, exam, fecal, heartworm prevention, etc.) are almost always NOT covered. *Exception = Nationwide pet wellness plan.

  • You are refunded from the pet insurance companies. So you will have to pay your veterinary bill (for most companies) before receiving any money from your insurance company. *Exception = Trupanion will pay your veterinarian directly in some locations.

  • Orthopedic waiting period (things like CCL rupture, hip dysplasia, etc.) can be 6 months or a year! If anything orthopedic happens in this time, it will not be covered.

Things that are covered by most plans include wounds, infections, heart disease, causes of vomiting and diarrhea, liver disease, cancer, emergency surgeries, diabetes, etc.

If pet insurance is something that you are heavily considering, it’s best to enroll while your pet is young, so they have the least amount of pre-existing conditions (things like diabetes, CCL disease/rupture, hip dysplasia, etc.) Be sure to compare plans from multiple companies to decide what is best for you! A great way to do so is by using Pawlicy Advisor. They allow you to compare plans from many different companies and even give recommendations that are specific to your pet.



The critical socialization period for puppies is from about 3-12 weeks of their life. During this period, it is important to introduce them to a variety of people, environments, and situations so they learn become desensitized. Since this period is unfortunately before puppies are full vaccinated, you have to be aware of potential disease transmission during this time. The risk of disease transmission can be decreased by introducing new people and stimuli at your home, bringing them to areas that not many other dogs visit, and utilizing a wagon to bring them to places where there may be unvaccinated animals. When introducing new things to your puppy, be sure to keep things very positive with lots of treats and praise!



There are multiple benefits of spaying and neutering your puppy which include:

  • Prolonged life-span: spayed and neutered animals have been shown to live longer

  • Eliminating the risk of ovarian and testicular cancer

  • Preventing infection of the uterus

  • Reduced risk for mammary tumors and infection of the uterus (pyometra)

  • Reduced roaming of males

  • Decreased unwanted puppies

  • Eliminate heat cycles for females

A recent study was published which makes suggestions on spay/neuter age by breed which can be found here. There are many considerations that go into when to perform this procedure which you can discuss with your veterinarian.

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