By Christie Long
When I was 7 or 8 years old, my little brother got a puppy for Christmas. Santa left him, a roly-poly black Labrador retriever in an open box under the Christmas tree.
Several times during the night, my brother and I went into my parent’s room to tell them that we were sure we heard a dog barking somewhere in the house. They told us that we were imagining things and to go back to bed, reminding us that Santa surely would bypass our house if he detected we were awake during a flyover.
Although I was disappointed that there was no pony in the backyard for me that morning, I remember being excited about my brother’s new puppy. Of those who got a puppy for Christmas, few are probably wondering about the practicalities of puppy ownership. That task is left to the parents.
Shortly after the wrapping paper has been cleared away, you need to schedule an appointment to see your veterinarian. Lots happens at that first visit and a good veterinarian will spend time educating families about many topics, including training, housebreaking and feeding a new puppy. Having a list of questions prepared ahead of time will ensure that you get the most from your time with the doctor.
Most breeders will give puppies their first vaccines before they are sold. It’s critical to know that one vaccine does not protect your puppy from deadly diseases, like the distemper and parvo viruses. Puppies (and kittens) need multiple vaccines given during the course of several months to reach maximum immunity. This is because the immunity they received from their mothers while nursing actually interferes with the efficacy of the vaccine. These vaccines are necessary while the puppy’s own immune system is maturing. Until a puppy is fully vaccinated, it still can get deadly diseases. No matter how badly you want to show off your new puppy at the dog park, please don’t do it.
Puppies are susceptible to parasites. Intestinal parasites can lie dormant in the muscle tissue of dogs and the stress of pregnancy causes them to begin to reproduce. This makes infection of the puppies via nursing common so most breeders will automatically deworm the puppies before sale.
Because intestinal parasites go through multiple life stages, and because our anti-parasite medications are only active against certain life stages, puppies need multiple doses of this medication to kill parasites as they mature.
Your vet will perform a complete physical examination on your new puppy, looking for potential health problems such as heart defects or joint abnormalities. Your vet also will educate you about what additional treatments your new puppy will need and about surgery to spay or neuter your dog when the time is appropriate.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted advisor to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their 5-year-old son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.