Essentially, there are 4 stages of life for any canine:
- Young Adult
- Mature Adult
These categories should be used as a guide to determine the appropriate care necessary for your pet, for that particular stage. The age, size, lifestyle, health status, and breed of your dog all affect the care that is appropriate for them. The care they receive throughout their lives has a direct impact on their lifespan and energy levels.
The AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) The Canine Life Stage Checklist provides a checklist of items to discuss with each pet owner based on life stage. This table of additional resources offers suggestions to help predict longevity in various common breeds.
Puppies grow fast and their needs change just as fast. They’ll need frequent veterinary visits, so you’ll both get to know your veterinary team well. Through physical exams, your veterinarian will take their temperature and check their body condition, skin, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, heart, lungs, gastrointestinal system, urinary system, brain, nerves, bones, muscles, joints, and lymph nodes.
The puppy stage lasts from birth to cessation of rapid growth, which is roughly 6–9 months of age, varying with breed and size. Your pet wants to run, play, explore, and… chew!
While it’s necessary that they get plenty of exercise, keeping them safe is a top priority. Bored puppies are dangerous puppies and can be a danger to themselves, as well as your furniture and shoes. It’s important to “puppy-proof” your home. Potential hazards are everywhere inside and outside the home. Ask your Veterinarian for the best way to confine your puppy in your home, car, on a walk, or in the yard. They are the experts and will be happy to help.
All dogs, regardless of their life stage, have to travel safely and with minimal stress. Call your veterinarian prior to your puppy’s visit to learn how to acclimate them to travel and determine the most effective way to transport them for their visit.
There are breed-specific health concerns that can affect your puppy’s quality of life. At your visit, your veterinarian will examine your puppy from mouth to tail for any breed-related abnormalities. Consider DNA testing for breed identification in mixed-breed dogs to determine risk factors for breed-specific diseases.
‘Zoonoses’ are infections transmitted between humans and animals. Animal bites, raw food, and poop are the most common ways of transmission, but talk to your veterinarian about disease prevention. Talk to your veterinarian know if there are children, elderly, or immune-compromised family members who may have exposure to your puppy to keep everyone healthy.
“Puppyhood” is a BIG chapter in your puppy’s life book. What you do now will have a profound and lasting effect on your puppy’s relationship with you, other people, and other animals. There are key priorities at different stages of your puppy’s development, including socializing with a wide variety of people, learning when and on what it’s appropriate to use their mouths (bite inhibition), navigating the world at large, and many more. Tell your veterinarian about your puppy’s actions. How does your puppy act and play? Do you use a crate as part of your training? Share any concerning behavior you have seen. Many issues can be addressed and corrected with expert advice from your veterinarian. Ask about selecting appropriate trainers, too!
Beginning in puppyhood, dogs need good dental care throughout their lives. your puppy’s mouth sees a lot of action these days. Deciduous teeth (“baby teeth”) come in and fall out, and permanent teeth may be on their way. Your veterinarian will perform a complete oral exam to evaluate the development of your puppy’s teeth, gums, and mouth structure. During all this action, your puppyalso wants to chew on everything! This is the time to talk about acceptable and safe chew toys. Hint: Your hand should not be one of them! Once your puppy’s permanent teeth have grown in, discuss home oral hygiene training with the veterinary team to maximize lifelong health.
Pet food choices can be overwhelming! Veterinarians have the most medical training when it comes to puppy nutrition, so let them help you. Together, you can choose a quality food with targeted nutrition based on your puppy’s breed and size. Also, talk to the veterinary team about supplements, feeding schedules, water availability, and establishing a healthy weight range for your pup.
It is common for puppies to have intestinal parasites (e.g., worms, Giardia, etc.). Early on, your veterinarian will likely prescribe a “dewormer”—a medicine to get rid of the parasites. your puppywill then start year-round medicine to prevent intestinal parasites. These parasites can be found in your puppy’s poop and can be transmitted to humans, so talk to your veterinarian about how to keep everyone in your home safe. Your vet will also recommend the most effective ways to prevent heartworm, fleas, and ticks in your area.
Vaccination is a crucial component to preventive medicine in dogs. Vaccinations are given to kick-start your puppy’s immune system against infection before they are exposed to a disease. Several vaccines are administered routinely to dogs as the primary defense against serious infectious illnesses. These “core” vaccines include distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus and +/-parainfluenza (usually packaged as a single vaccine), and rabies. Additional vaccines are needed depending on geographic regions, circumstances, and lifestyle. These are “noncore” vaccines against bordetella, Lyme disease, influenza, and leptospirosis. Your veterinarian will advise which vaccines are necessary to keep your puppy healthy.
It is recommended that all dogs not intended for deliberate breeding be spayed or neutered. A spay is the surgical removal of both ovaries and the uterus in female dogs. A neuter is the surgical removal of both testicles in male dogs. There are many benefits to spaying or neutering your puppy. Sterilized dogs live longer than those that are not. The timing of when to spay or neuter your puppy is based on factors such as sex and how much your puppy is expected to weigh as an adult. Talk to your veterinarian to determine the appropriate timeframe to sterilize your puppy. If you choose to breed your puppy, responsible breeding practices should be reviewed.