Like human infants, puppies have lower resistance to disease than adult animals. In fact, not so many years ago, less than half of all dogs born ever reached maturity.
These days the puppy’s chances are very good indeed. Dogs are healthier and live longer now, thanks to the skilled medical attention and nutritious, scientifically balanced diets. But there is one more necessary ingredient in this magic mix for a long life-tender loving care at home.
Step one in the puppy’s health program is to choose his doctor, the veterinarian. This highly skilled specialist in animal diseases will be your invaluable ally throughout your pet’s lifetime.
Get to know him and to depend on him when your dog is ill or injured. Keep his address and telephone number (including his special night number if he has one) in a prominent place where it will be available in emergencies. And make it a routine to have your pet examined twice yearly as his best possible health insurance.
The puppy should have his first checkup shortly after you adopt him. If he had a complete physical at the kennel, take that health record along with the first visit to your own veterinarian. He will then know what shots have been given and can schedule inoculations that are absolute musts to protect your pet against the four most lethal canine diseases:
- Distemper, a highly contagious viral disease that attacks the dog’s tissues. Puppies are especially susceptible. Adult vaccination shots usually begin at 9 to 12 weeks, but your doctor may recommend puppy shots for temporary protection. Annual booster shots are necessary.
- Hepatitis, an infectious virus that affects the liver and gastrointestinal tract and may spread to other organs of the body. Again, puppies are especially prone but can be immunized with shots given in combination with distemper and leptospirosis inoculations when he is 9 to 12 weeks old.
- Leptospirosis, an infectious disease that attacks the kidneys and liver, with symptoms similar to those for hepatitis. Immunization shots are given along with those for distemper and hepatitis; annual booster shots are required.
- Rabies, a virus disease of the nervous system, which is transmitted in the saliva of a rabid animal. Once the scourge of the canine world, rabies is now rare among dogs, thanks to immunization, which is required by law. The disease has shown an alarming increase among some wild animals in recent years, so it’s still a threat, especially to the country dog.
Don’t be a putter-offer when it comes to rabies shots; you cannot get a license for your dog until you show proof of inoculation. Rabies shots are given at 4 to 6 months, followed by boosters at the annual or 30-month intervals, depending on the type of vaccine used by your veterinarian.
Many veterinarians keep records of shots needed and send out reminder cards to their clients. It might be a good idea to inquire whether your doctor provides this service. If not, keep your own records as self-reminders.
During the first visit, the veterinarian will take care of any grooming needs that were not handled by the breeder. If you bought from a kennel, puppy’s dewclaws (a residual thumb just above the paws) may already have been removed. The same is true of tail cropping. Both of these operations, show requirements for some breeds, are best performed a few days after birth.
If the kennel did not handle these, consult your veterinarian on the advisability of performing them on your particular pet.
Ear cropping, a procedure used for style with some breeds, is usually done at around 6 to 8 weeks. All these minor operations should be handled by a veterinarian.
Ask your doctor to give you a nail-trimming demonstration. This is a part of grooming, which is easy to handle at home, once you know how. Adult dogs usually get enough exercise to keep their nails worn down, but puppies, which spend a lot of time indoors, sometimes need your help. Overly long nails can cause pain, spreading of the toes or splaying of the feet and, in some cases, even lameness.
Good Health and Bad:
Puppies are easy marks for all ailments, from belly aches, that easily beset the young. Most of his troubles will be minor ones, to be treated with tenderness and common sense. But you should be able to recognize the symptoms of genuine illness so that you can alert your doctor.
Very generally, a sick dog will have what veterinarians and breeders call an “unthrifty” appearance. A scruffy coat, dull eyes, poor appetite, and general lethargy are signs of trouble. So, especially for puppies, are runny eyes or nose or an abnormally bloated stomach. Persistent constipation, diarrhea or vomiting are also danger signals.
Persistent is the key word, however. A puppy can seem “sick as a dog” one moment and come bounding back, bigger than life, the next. Give him time for his own recuperative powers to work. See that he gets lots of rest and, above all, keep him warm.
Drafts and chills can cause serious complications if he does have an infection. If he’s not bouncy and bright-eyed within 24 hours, call the doctor.
Here are some of the things to watch for if your pup seems under par:
Not necessarily serious. Dogs can regurgitate at will, and this may be puppy’s way or his stomach’s – of rejecting something he has eaten. Chewing grass, overeating, and any number of things can cause him to vomit. If he seems relieved and comfortable after he upchucks, there’s probably nothing to worry about. If it continues, vomiting could be an indication of worms or other parasites, a foreign object lodged in his throat or stomach, or the onset of a disease.
Take him off food and liquids for 24 hours, but let him lick ice cubes occasionally. If he seems weak and sickly, take his temperature. If he has a fever, or if there is blood in the vomit, get professional help immediately.
Another common complaint that is not serious unless it continues for longer than 24 hours, or recurs very frequently, or is accompanied by fever. It usually indicates nothing more than a mild stomach upset. Withhold food and liquids for 24 hours (but offer ice cubes) and feed him Kaopectate or Pepto Bismol every two hours.
Quantities vary according to the size of the dog. A tablespoon per dosage is about right for a 20-pound dog, less for a smaller animal. After 24 hours, start feeding him starchy foods such as cooked rice, macaroni or potatoes until the condition has cleared up.
Persistent diarrhea or either blood or mucus in the stools are serious symptoms and call for professional treatment. Constipation occurs less frequently in young dogs than among older animals. In puppies, it can result from poor diet or an intestinal obstruction caused by a foreign object the dog has swallowed. Milk of magnesia, one teaspoon per every 10 pounds of the dog, is a safe and effective laxative.
Do not experiment with human laxatives; some of them contain strychnine which, even in minute quantities, is lethal to dogs. If you suspect that your pup has swallowed something that is causing an obstruction, don’t give laxatives at all, but call the Veterinarian immediately.
Are symptoms, not a disease. They may be caused by a serious ailment, such as epilepsy, or by something as common to puppyhood as teething, worms, a foreign object in the stomach or intestines, indigestion or even extreme heat.
A fit is frightening to watch, and there isn’t much you can do except try to protect your pet from injuring himself. Throw a towel, coat or blanket over him and hold him gently until the seizure subsides. Then comfort him (he’s frightened, too), keep him warm and quiet, and get in touch with your veterinarian for a diagnosis of the cause.
Combined with a runny nose can mean a respiratory infection or the approach of a whole range of serious diseases. If they are accompanied by a fever, call your doctor at once. If not, they probably indicate a mild upper respiratory infection that will clear up within a few days. Keep the puppy indoors and out of drafts until the symptoms disappear. Lots of sleep and a little sympathy are indicated.
A persistent, hacking, dry cough may signal infectious tracheobronchitis or a kennel cough. This is an extremely contagious disease that spreads rapidly among animals closely confined in the same quarters. For this reason, a puppy should not be boarded or hospitalized unless absolutely necessary or unless he can be isolated.
A kennel cough is a mild, but stubborn, disease that can hang on for as long as two to three weeks. Keep your dog warm and quiet, and put him under a doctor’s care. If not treated, kennel cough may lead to serious complications.
Most puppies lose their milk teeth at around four or five months (don’t worry if he swallows them; they’re soft), and acquire a full set of permanent ones by the sixth month. The whole process takes place so fast that it sometimes causes diarrhea, listlessness, poor appetite, weight loss, and even a little fever.
In rare cases, teething has been known to bring on convulsions. Most often, however, the symptoms are nothing more severe than a slightly cranky pup and sudden increase of teeth marks on every chewable object in the house.
Give him sympathy – and something tough to chew on. The puppy will get 42 permanent teeth at all, and if he is getting a balanced diet of fortified puppy food, his teeth will come in straight and strong. It’s not a bad idea to have your veterinarian give him a mouth check at the teething time, possibly when you take him in for inoculations.
Worms are internal parasites that plague many dogs – perhaps most – at some time during their lives. Puppies are their special prey. The type of worm that most commonly infects the young dog is the roundworm, sometimes called “puppyworm.”
An infestation is not difficult to control unless it is allowed to progress too far. You may actually see worms in your pet’s vomit or feces, but any of the following signs could indicate their presence:
- The dog seems weak and listless.
- His appetite changes; he may frantically stuff himself or completely ignore his food.
- He has loose bowel movements which may be flecked with blood.
- He develops a scruffy coat and generally unthrifty appearance.
- He may lose weight or develop an abnormally distended stomach.
These are signs that something’s wrong, and it may or may not be worms. The only way you can be sure is to take a sample of your dog’s stool to the veterinarian. Don’t give puppy patent worming medicines “just in case.”
Deworming can be successfully done at home, but only under your veterinarian’s direction and using drugs prescribed by him. Home cures, if administered in an inexpert and careless way, can do as much harm as the infestation itself.
Beware of homespun advice about worms; the subject is loaded with old wives’ tales. You’ll be told that when a dog scoots along on the floor on his rear, it’s a sure sign he has worms. Not necessarily. Worms might possibly cause this, but scooting is usually a sign that the anal sacs or glands are irritated or impacted.
One of the most durable myths is that milk and sweets cause worms. Not true. A puppy can be born with worms or get them by swallowing the eggs which hatch in the intestines. Someone will surely recommend that age-old home cure for worms’ garlic. Not true. Garlic may smell strong enough to be a dewormer, but the only medicine prescribed by your veterinarian will rid the puppy of these parasites.
External parasites such as fleas and ticks are far more than nuisances, though they are most decidedly that. They are disease carriers, too.
Except in extreme cases, home is the place for the sick pup. He’s happier there, and he won’t be exposed to other ailing animals. For this reason, you should know a few rules of home nursing.
To take his temperature, use a rectal thermometer coated with Vaseline or K-Y lubricant, which is water soluble. Insert the thermometer halfway and hold for two minutes. (It may take two people for this job.)
Normal temperature is 101 to 102. Do not rely on the cold-nose myth as a health barometer. It is not an accurate one. A dog’s nose can be warm and dry simply from his sleeping in a warm and dry room.
To give him medicine, try burying it in his favorite food or a special treat. Puppies are such gobblers that this will probably work, but if he eats his way around it, here are what you must do:
- For pills, grasp his muzzle and squeeze the lips against his teeth to force his mouth open, then tilt his head backward and place (don’t throw)the pill as far back as you can push it. Hold his mouth closed and massage his throat for a moment to make him swallow. A little butter on the pill will help it slide down more easily.
- For liquids, pull puppy’s check out to make a lip pouch, pour the medicine in slowly, then close the pouch and let him swallow.
To give an enema, use an adult or infant-sized rectal syringe, depending on the size of the dog and coat the tip of the nozzle with Vaseline or mineral oil for lubrication. Put him in the bathtub or outdoors and you’d better have someone around to help because he’s not going to like this. Insert the nozzle gently and hold the bag a foot or two above his head, raising and lowering it so that the water will not flow with too much pressure.
There are also disposable plastic squeeze bottles, called Fleet Enemas, which are convenient and easy to use. These come in various sizes to suit your breed. Consult your doctor before you give the puppy an enema; in most cases, a mild laxative will do the job, and with less trauma for both you and your pet.
What does travel to have to do with good health? In the puppy’s case, everything. The puppy under six months of age should stay home. He doesn’t have the resistance to withstand exposure to other animals in a boarding kennel. And he certainly doesn’t have the manners yet to make him a welcome guest anywhere.
Still, people travel – so what to do about the puppy? If possible hires a sitter; if that is not possible to select a boarding kennel that provides special care for puppies.
Many veterinary clinics that also board dogs will not accept puppies because of the danger of exposure. But with a little careful shopping, you should be able to find a kennel that will provide protection from contagion and give him attention and care.