Puppies and Kittens: Back to Basics

Christmas is a busy time for new puppies and kittens, so now seems like a good time to go over puppy and kitten care. Whether you adopt from a shelter or from a breeder, there are some basics that you need to know.

The most important is visiting your veterinarian when first getting a new puppy or kitten. A new puppy/kitten exam is recommended to make sure the new addition to the family is healthy enough for vaccines and free from any congenital defects such as cleft palate, heart murmurs, and hernias. Your veterinarian will set up a schedule for vaccinating and deworming. A fecal sample will be tested for intestinal parasites. Even if your puppy has been dewormed, there are a few parasites that most dewormers do not cover. If they are old enough, heartworm and flea prevention will be started, which will need to be continued monthly for the rest of the pet’s life.

Another important topic I go over with every new puppy is socialization. Puppyhood is the best time to train and socialize so that your puppy grows into a well behaved dog. With puppies, 3 to 12 weeks is the best time to socialize. During this time puppies easily adapt to new people, animals, and situations. The more these puppies are exposed to, the better, because at this age they may respond in fear but quickly recover and adapt to the unfamiliar object or surroundings. It doesn’t end there though, continued socialization is important until 6 to 8 months of age. This socialization will help the adult dog deal with stress in the household later on in life. A well socialized dog will not respond to moving, schedule changes, new family members, with anxiety and possibly destructive behaviors.

Just as important as socialization, is training. House training puppies is first and foremost for most clients. The most helpful are frequent trips outside and lots of positive reinforcement when puppy gets it right. Simple commands like sit and stay are going to be next for puppy. Use positive reinforcement like treats and praise. Puppy training classes or puppy preschool classes are recommended, but make sure the class requires all puppies be on schedule with their vaccines and deworming. Training takes time, so be patient with your puppy.

No matter how big or small your pup will grow up to be, they will need to be handled and examined. Helping them become a well behaved and tolerant dog will make you, your groomer, and veterinarian’s life much easier down the road. The best way to accomplish this is by making it a positive experience with treats and petting. Focus on the problem areas, mouth, ears, and toenails. Practice brushing the teeth, giving a pill, and grooming. Even getting your puppy used to the collar being grabbed could be valuable down the road, as some dogs may turn around and bite.

Dogs that are well socialized and trained have less anxiety and stress throughout their life, and in turn will help you have a better relationship with your pet. Don’t forget about kittens when it comes to early interaction and positive reinforcement. They also benefit from early socialization and handling, but good luck on the training!